Note: This piece focuses mainly on the topic of suicide, but the new hotline can be used for any mental health emergency. This topic may be sensitive for some readers.
Statistic: “In 2020, an estimated 12.2 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.2 million attempted suicide.”1
Problem: Suicide and its associated stigmas exist in the hospitality industry just as they exist elsewhere. Those considering (or having considered or attempted) suicide are experiencing a tremendous amount of pain already (see “warning signs” below for reference), and the stigma surrounding their experiences can make their situation even more unbearable. Stigmas toward those who have thought about or attempted suicide can come in the form of unwanted assumptions, being perceived as fully intent on dying2, weak and unable to cope with problems, selfish, thoughtless, or attention-seeking3. This impacts many involved: “stigma toward suicide moves parallel to the problem of perceived stigma for both those who have attempted suicide and by [their] family members.”3 Surviving family and friends may also feel anger, guilt, symptoms of depression or anxiety, and even have thoughts of suicide themselves, making the issue of suicide far-reaching.1
Many people who feel conscious of this stigma have difficulty seeking help and even discussing their suicidal thoughts with their family and peers.2 This is a huge barrier to suicide prevention, not to mention how the stigma is experienced systemically within health care, insurance policies3, and employment2.
Solutions: Suicide and its stigmas may seem like daunting topics to tackle as a person in a leadership position, but there are simple ways to encourage prevention and shift the culture:
- Promote connectedness in your workplace by thoughtfully communicating with your team.
- Establish company policies or programs that make mental health support accessible, such as an employee assistance program, telehealth, or simply demonstrate that you are there to support and help your employees.
- Be aware of warning signs:
- talking about wanting to die, hurt oneself, being a burden, or feeling trapped or hopeless
- withdrawing or feeling isolated
- displaying extreme mood swings
- increasing alcohol or drug use
- acting severely anxious or agitated2,4
- If concerned about a team member, sensitively ask questions such as:
- “How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?”
- “Are you thinking about hurting yourself or dying?”
- “It sounds like things are really rough right now, and I am concerned about you. Are you thinking about killing yourself?”2,4
- Spread the word in the workplace about the new Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, 988, that connects people who are suicidal or in any other mental health crisis to a trained mental health professional.5
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts About Suicide. www.cdc.gov. Published January 21, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/facts/index.html
- Breaking the Stigma about Suicide – Mental Health – Wellness and Health Promotion – Seattle University. www.seattleu.edu. https://www.seattleu.edu/wellness/mental/stigma/
- Carpiniello B, Pinna F. The Reciprocal Relationship between Suicidality and Stigma. Front Psychiatry. 2017;8:35. Published 2017 Mar 8. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00035
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Suicide: What to do when someone is suicidal. Mayo Clinic. Published 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/suicide/in-depth/suicide/art-20044707
- Chatterjee R. The new 988 mental health hotline is live. Here’s what to know. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/07/15/1111316589/988-suicide-hotline-number. Published July 16, 2022.