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Many people spend more hours with their coworkers than they do at home, so it’s important to know how to help someone who is expressing feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts. Because there is still a stigma surrounding suicide, most people are unsure of how to proceed or start a conversation with a person who needs help, but the best way is simply to be honest with the person and let them know you’re listening.
Whether you’re a coworker or manager, there are signs that can alert you to the fact that someone is thinking about self-harm, such as:
If your coworker has lost a family member or loved one recently or has had their job threatened, they may also be at risk for depression and suicide. Individuals who are military veterans or victims of abuse or trauma tend to be high risks as well. If a combination of these signs appears in someone you know, don’t brush it off or wait for someone else to talk to them about it. Depression and other mood disorders often make a person feel very isolated, and the feeling that no one knows what’s going on–or cares–can trigger violent action. Stepping in immediately and having a talk with the person lets them know that you are taking their feelings seriously.
Starting a conversation can be tricky, and you may feel awkward asking about something so personal. Ask them to lunch in a quiet spot and simply tell them you’ve been noticing some things that worry you. Ask how they’re doing and whether they need anything. A lot of times, a person who has been having suicidal thoughts is holding a lot of emotion in, and having the gate opened allows them to get things off their mind.
If and when the talk starts to turn to suicide, never make accusatory statements, judge, or bring the word “selfish” into the conversation. People who are contemplating taking their own lives are likely in so much pain that they can’t see any other way out. Self-loathing is another factor; many feel like their friends and family will be better off without them. They simply don’t see what their death would do to the people who love them. Their feelings will probably come from a place outside your understanding, and that’s okay. Just let them talk and reiterate that you’re there for them.
Offer to help find a therapist, counselor, or group session your coworker can take part in. If they would feel more comfortable being anonymous, there are help lines they can call. If you feel suicide is imminent, don’t allow them to be alone and, if possible, remove any items that could be used to harm from the area. Don’t be afraid to call for help; sometimes the weight of someone else’s needs is too much to shoulder and that’s alright. There are professionals who can assist them.
If you suspect a coworker is depressed, sometimes the best thing you can do is simply reach out to them. Invite them along to group lunches or outings after work. Sit with them in the breakroom and strike up a conversation. The feeling of loneliness that can come with depression is treatable and may help them see that there are people who care, after all.
Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.org as part of a school project. He and a fellow pre-med student enjoyed working on the site so much that they decided to keep it going. Their goal is to make PublicHealthLibrary.org one of the go-to sources for health and medical information on the web.