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How To Identify Signs of Suicidal Behavior and Prevent Harm

Authors: Terri M. Solomon and Angelique Paul Newcomb, Littler


Between 1999 and 2018, the suicide rate in the United States rose by more than 35 percent. In 2018, a person died by suicide every 40 seconds in the US, according to the World Health Organization. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic starting in March 2020, the national suicide rate dropped in 2020 for the second year in a row, from 47,511 deaths in 2019 to 44,834 deaths in 2020. Even so, suicidal ideation is increasing, with more and more young people, Black Americans, and other people of color contemplating suicide.

With many Americans spending most of their waking hours at work, or performing their work duties from home, employers have a unique vantage point. People who work together for long periods of time get to know one another well, and co-workers thus may be in the best position to detect when something is off, and to intervene before an employee engages in an act of self-harm.

As a result, it is critical to be able to identify risk factors for suicide, and the types of behaviors that may suggest that an employee is considering suicide. It is also crucial to know how to respond to an employee who may be considering suicide or who actually verbalizes an intent to harm themselves, and how to safely return the employee to work.

The following steps will help employers identify suicidal risk factors and address an employee who displays suicidal behavior.