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Employee Well-Being

Three Ways Employers Can Stop Worker Suicide

Sally Spencer-Thomas | June 28, 2024

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A construction worker laughing next to other construction workers on a job site

Launched in April 2024, the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention calls on US employers to integrate suicide prevention into their company's health and safety plan. Of the 15 goals in the strategy, one is dedicated to the workplace.

Goal #5 of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention states: "Integrate suicide prevention into the culture of the workplace and into other community settings."

Companies that already are driving a culture of care and psychological safety are, therefore, at the front of a growing movement to stem the alarming rise of suicides and fatal overdoses nationally—exactly what the strategy was designed to address. For those still seeking to build a culture of care, there has never been more support for your aims.

The strategy explicitly asks employers to "integrate pro-social norms and behaviors as part of their culture and values through comprehensive suicide prevention planning efforts." 1 It leans heavily on the workplace to help foster the protective nature of community and connections between people, especially where they spend a lot of time, such as at work.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2021, about 18 persons per every 100,000 of working-age persons (16–64 years, employed or unemployed) in the United States died by suicide, up an alarming 33 percent since 2001. 2 The highest rates of death by suicide were of working-age males (32 per 100,000 compared with 8 women per 100,000). 3

Because not all suicide descendants die on the job, it could be argued that an employee's mental health crisis is not the concern of the employer. However, there is growing evidence that the workplace has the potential to exacerbate mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, burnout, and suicidal intensity, especially when workplace psychosocial risks are not managed. 4

Luckily, the reverse is also true. When work becomes a source of personal satisfaction and meaning, connection, community, and financial security, it has been shown to be protective against mental health crises that can lead to suicide. 5

Although the precise causes of suicide are unknown, the CDC cites the following risk factors as most common.

  • Low job security, low pay, and job stress
  • Access to lethal means (firearms, medication, etc.)
  • Work organization factors, such as long work hours and shift work
  • Workplace bullying 6

Addressing these and other risk factors comprehensively may seem like an overwhelming task, but no matter the details of your strategy, by thinking of your approach as having upstream, midstream, and downstream effects, you can help make the implementation of your plan easier.

Be vocal, be visible, be visionary. There is no shame in stepping forward, but there is great risk in holding back and just hoping for the best. 7


Leadership members must not only buy in to any culture change initiatives, but they must also model them consistently. Leaders can help create and sustain a caring community and a sense of belonging among workers by iterating clearly and often that mental health and suicide prevention are important pieces of the overall health and safety concerns of the organization. They do this by modeling their own mental health, emotional intelligence, and lived experiences publicly and by being knowledgeable and encouraging about the mental health supports available to employees.

Designating "go-to" mental health champions who are trained to communicate to coworkers what company- and community-supported mental health resources are available and to encourage their use is also another way to deepen community and reduce stigma and bias.


The goal in the "midstream" is early identification of emerging mental health concerns and escalating distress—before the situation reaches a crisis level. Ideally, this awareness and action is due to self-empowerment and self-care. Nevertheless, by sensitizing the entire workforce to the early warning signs of an emerging mental health concern, and educating them about the potential risks involved, proactive prevention becomes a team priority. Coworkers are in a strong position to learn how to reach out with empathy to their peers who are struggling and be a bridge to resources and qualified supports.


However, upstream and midstream approaches are not enough, and you also need to plan for mental health emergencies. In other words, the importance of compassionate downstream responses to worker mental health crises is essential. Having best practice guidelines in place can help reduce the impact of suicide, suicide attempts, and other mental health crises while promoting dignity and empowerment for all impacted.


The National Strategy for Suicide Prevention is an urgent call to action for employers and sets new standards for the role that employee relations plays in workplace health and safety. It also offers the opportunity for you and your organization to set industry standards for what a resilient, caring workplace can be.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.


1 2024 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services, April 2024.
2 2024 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.
3 Aaron Sussell, Cora Peterson, Jia Li, Arialdi Miniño, Kenneth A. Scott, and Deborah M. Stone, "Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation—National Vital Statistics System, United States, 2021," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC, December 15, 2023.
4 Hope M. Tiesman, Jodi Frey, and Sally Spencer-Thomas, "Critical Steps Your Workplace Can Take Today To Prevent Suicide," NIOSH Science Blog, CDC, March 15, 2023.
5 Tiesman, et al.
6 Tiesman, et al.
7 Be Vocal, Be Visible, Be Visionary, Presidents Leadership Group, Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention, 1997.