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Workplace suicides are up: Watch for signs of trouble

The stresses of hard times can overwhelm someone without a support system of family and friends, psychologists say, sometimes even leading to tragedies at a work site. The Labor Department, for example, reported recently that suicides at a workplace rose to 251 last year, the highest since record-keeping began in 1992. Here are some ways to prevent public tragedies. Tali Arbel, Associated Press

Watch for signs of trouble. Changes in personality and behavior are a clear signal of distress, said Nadeen Medvin, a psychologist who runs the employee assistance program for the city of Miami. Have people who are outgoing suddenly become withdrawn? Are formerly calm colleagues acting aggressively?

Verbally abusing others is also often a sign of inner turmoil. So are comments indicating hopelessness or desperation.

Abuse of drugs or alcohol is also an indicator of anxiety or pain.

Guilt can play a role. Workers at risk include those who have recently been promoted or had a big success at work, especially when they are already inclined to panic disorder, while colleagues are laid off or in trouble, said Jeff Kahn, a psychiatry professor and CEO of WorkPsych Associates, a consultancy in New York.

Get an evaluation. Kahn recommends distressed employees be professionally evaluated for panic disorder and depression, which are equally often linked to suicides. There's not much a company can do to force an employee to get care, Kahn said, but if you set up the problem from a "business perspective," that can help, he said. Suggest that getting help would make the person a better employee. Another tactic is to have someone friendly with the worker offer to drive him or her to the emergency room for a psychological evaluation.

Get help. If you think a colleague is distressed, seek help with the human resources department, which should have a mental-health specialist available for referrals if there isn't someone in-house, Medvin said.

Healthy atmosphere. More generally, a company can make work-life balance a priority, encourage physical well-being in employees with gym access and provide low-cost health care. That can help prevent problems from combusting in at-risk individuals, Medvin said.

Workplace suicides are up: Watch for signs of trouble 08/27/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 6:40pm]
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