7 What to do and what not to do when an employee is at risk of self-harm


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This article discusses suicide. If you are considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) for help. The building space has increasingly focused on mental health in the past several months, and for good reason: The consequences of the pandemic have left many workers struggling with issues of grief, financial stress, anxiety and isolation. One mental health care provider reported a 2,000% increase in the number of workers accessing telehealth between late 2020 and early 2021. And companies have recently introduced a range of programs aimed at improving the mental health of employees, from free counseling to vacation Weekend company-wide and even manipulation. But what about those unfortunate times when an employee didn’t get the help they needed in time and was in the midst of a crisis? On June 9, Terri Solomon, co-founder of Littler Mendelson’s New York office and co-chair of the Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group, and Mark McElhaney, CEO and Director of Career Services, Critical Response Associates, participated during an XpertHR webinar on how employers can best practice Dealing with mental health crises in the office. 1. Treat suicide risk as a potential safety threat to others – not just the employee. While suicidal individuals are rarely violent, the opposite is not necessarily true. “Very simply put, if you look at the mass killings [at work]McIlhani said, the active shootings that took place in this country…each of them involved a suicidal person. In fact, from my perspective as a psychiatrist, I would say these were essentially suicidal acts. Duty to maintain a safe work environment for all employees. Threats or warning signs of suicide not only threaten the safety of the individual concerned but may lead to office-wide safety hazards. Make sure you update your emergency action plan and intervene early if you spot warning signs. 2 Follow your gut. Contrary to popular belief, Solomon and McElhaney said, people at high risk of suicide rarely “explode.” Significant behavioral changes and warning signs almost always accompany the possibility of self-harm. Pay attention to indicators such as increased alcohol use, decreased motivation, and decreased communication, attendance problems, increased aggressiveness or agitation, changes in performance, shaggy appearance and i inability to concentrate. Watch for significant emotional shifts as well, especially depression, crying, and mood swings. In general, trust your gut, said Solomon and McElhaney, “If you feel a significant change, ask The employee what’s wrong. If you have a strong suspicion, it’s okay to ask the employee if he or she is contemplating suicide.”[For] “Most people, it’s a very awkward feeling, it’s a very awkward feeling, and there’s a lot of resistance to that,” McKelhanie said. “But I will say that many people who are contemplating suicide would like to be asked. This gives them a chance to open up.”3. Don’t just send the employee home. For employers who are reluctant to get involved in their employees’ personal lives, it can be tempting to send a restless employee home all day—or a longer period of time—and hope for the best. That could be a huge mistake, according to panelists. “The first thing you need to do is make sure that person is safe,” Solomon said. Find the employee’s emergency contact and let this person know that the employee is contemplating suicide or has threatened suicide. Wait for that person to come and pick up the individual. If the employee is working remotely, employers can involve the emergency contact, or in the event of an emergency, call the police and ask for a welfare check. But if you know that the emergency contact is old and no longer on good terms with the employee — an ex-wife in a bitter divorce, for example — don’t release the employee at risk into that person’s care, if possible. Try to find an alternate connection file. 4. Ask for help, if the employee appears ready to take immediate action. In more serious cases—when the threat of self-harm is not only known, but imminent—call 911, an emergency contact, or a therapist, if known. Request that the employee be taken directly to the hospital for evaluation and treatment. 5. Do not drive the employee to the hospital with your own car. Solomon and McElhaney said a concerned employer may want to take the employee to the hospital themselves, but that this could put both the employer and employee at risk. “You don’t want to put the manager in that kind of risk… that the employee is on the way to the hospital [is] Going, for example, opening the car door in the middle of a busy highway,” Solomon said. 6. Continue. Maintaining mental health is an ongoing journey; if you are concerned about an employee, or if it is an employee who has already had a crisis and is back at work, do more than just checking in once and moving on.” It’s not enough just to send them to [employee assistance program] Or to say, “How are you?” “You have a nice conversation,” McIlhanie said. Continue with them. See how they are. “But ‘Ask a real question and you’ll get a real answer,'” McElhaney said. It might sound like a routine ‘How are you?’ “It sounds like a proper check-in, but I’ll probably get a routine answer,” he said, “You have to do more in terms of communication.” Ask something more specific. COVID-19 has been really hard on everyone, working from home. How has it affected you? Then listen actively.” 7. Create a workplace contingency plan that includes suicide risks. Employers can take a lot of action right now to reduce the risk of a suicide scenario. Hold meetings for all employees to remove the stigma from talking about mental health. Work-sponsored “wellness” leave and consideration of expanding mental health benefits. Talk to employees about what to do if they are concerned about a co-worker. Make sure employees know everything their current benefits can offer, from free EAPs and consultations to telehealth. Share contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) along with benefits information in the employee handbook. Finally, include suicide awareness and prevention in your workplace emergency response plan. In a crisis situation, it is common to freeze or make a wrong call. Make sure managers and other employees are prepared and understand what to do if they realize there is an imminent risk of suicide at work


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