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Suicide Danger Signs
 As a supervisor, you have a key role in identifying employees who may benefit from a referral to the company’s employee assistance program (EAP). The following DANGER signs can help you identify an employee who might be at risk of suicide.

D – Depression
An estimated 2 percent to 15 percent of persons who have been diagnosed with major depression die by suicide, according to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. As defined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), depression is diagnosed if a person experiences five or more of the following nine symptoms during the same two-week period and these symptoms represent a change from previous functioning:

  • sadness most of the day, nearly every day
  • diminished interest or pleasure in typically enjoyable activities
  • significant change in weight and appetite
  • insomnia or excessive sleep
  • agitated or slowed physical movement
  • fatigue and loss of energy
  • feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • diminished ability to concentrate
  • recurrent thoughts of death and suicide

A – Alcohol and drugs
According to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, between 40 percent and 60 percent of those who die by suicide are intoxicated at the time of death. Alcohol is a depressant and it reduces judgment and impulse control—a lethal combination for someone who is considering self-harm.

N – Negativity
When overwhelmed by depression, a person’s perception is impaired, leading to feeling powerless, helpless and easily overwhelmed. Obstacles that normally appear easily resolved now seem insurmountable. Concentration is impaired and multi-tasking feels impossible. Typical strengths, problem-solving techniques and interpersonal resources become “invisible.” The suicidal person believes that no matter what he tries, it won’t work.

G – Giving possessions away
Frequently, those with suicidal plans activate a “living will” by allocating cherished objects, activities and relationships to others. For example, exercise extreme caution if an employee who exhibits these other danger signs suddenly withdraws her 401(k) or gives away a beloved possession.

E – Estrangement
Be alert if an employee uncharacteristically isolates from co-workers or withdraws from group activities. This isolation is a symptom of depression and also serves as a means to distance him from the pain of ultimate separation. When someone is suicidal, he feels very different from everyone else and is uncomfortable in groups, even though interpersonal support is crucial to his safety and recovery.

R – Revenge
Many suicide notes are hostile. Suicide has often been described as “misdirected homicide,” and frequently homicide and suicide occur together. Suicide risk is elevated when the person expresses anger without regard to consequences to herself and others.

Consulting the EAP
If behavior changes such as those listed above interfere with an employee’s ability to perform job functions, you may recommend an EAP assessment to determine if there are emotional or psychological factors that are causing these behavior changes. It is also important to note that some individuals who have resolved in their minds that suicide is the only alternative to their problems may demonstrate a reversal of the above behaviors; they may appear euphoric and perhaps less depressed just prior to an act of suicide.

You may also be aware of personal struggles an employee is facing such as divorce, death in the family, financial pressures or legal problems. While concerns about these situations may not immediately cause job performance deterioration, you may informally remind the employee of the EAP’s availability to assist in dealing with life problems.

Early intervention, whether based on job performance issues or an informal reminder, can help employees access help before they become overwhelmed and despairing about their situation.

By Bob VandePol, MSW
© 2004 Crisis Care Network