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Building a Workplace Mental Wellness Strategy

The difficult conversation of suicide

By Lisa Jacobus, LICSW, Behavioral Health Consultant, Sun Life

There is no single cause for suicide and death by suicide feels tragic to everyone. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for people ages 10-34, according to the National Association of Mental Illness. This is a terrifying statistic and it’s important for all of us – our families, our communities—to understand the warning signs and know who to call for help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255

Warning signs of suicide and self-harming behaviors

  • Verbal expression: Talking about killing themselves, expressing hopelessness or having no reason to live, feeling like a burden to others, and feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain.
  • Behaviors: Increased use of alcohol or drugs, looking for a way to end their life such as searching the internet for methods. Withdrawing from activities, isolating from family and friends, sleeping too much or too little. Visiting or calling people to say goodbye. Giving away prized possessions, aggression, or fatigue.
  • Changes in mood: depression, anxiety, loss of interest, irritability, humiliation/ shame, agitation/anger. And lastly and sometimes more surprisingly, relief or sudden improvement, which seems inconsistent with where they were.
  • Predisposing factors:  These include US Geography, Age, Gender, LGBTQIA+ Identity, Race/ethnicity, marital status, personality traits, occupation, economic factors, and childhood trauma. Living in remote, isolated areas of the country is also associated with increased suicide rates.

Suicide prevention – knowledge and resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Teens and suicide: What parents should know (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

Help yourself: Access this informative infographic and more from the National Alliance on Mental Illness

Find more information on warning signs by visiting The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Understanding the language of suicide

If a member of your team or community lost their life to suicide, it’s important not to silence the situation but use the experience to promote mental health treatment and recovery.

The National Center of suicide prevention has made the following recommendations about how we talk about suicide. 

  • Say “died by suicide” versus “committed suicide,” in order to reduce the stigma that it was a personal choice.
  • Say “suicide death” or “suicide attempt” versus “successful” or “unsuccessful.”

Using factual and direct language that is free of judgement of the person or the situation will help to create an environment where it will be safe to talk about mental health concerns.

Suicide is and always will be a sensitive issue, and with greater awareness, more people can recognize warning signs and help save a life. 

If you become concerned about one of your colleagues being at risk for suicide.

We all spend a significant amount of time with our colleagues and sometimes in stressful situations.  If you become concerned that one of your colleagues may be at risk for suicidal behavior, you should reach out to Human Resources.  Depending on the circumstances, it may be appropriate for Human Resources to have a confidential discussion with the employee.  Because these types of situations and conversations about them can raise both legal and employee relations concerns it is very important to involve Human Resources as soon as you become concerned.


  • What to do in a crisis 

    • Contact local police station for a wellness check 
    • Contact Human Resources Business Partner or Employee Relations. 
    • Take care of yourself 

This content is not to be considered legal advice. We recommend that Clients speak with legal counsel as necessary.

Group insurance policies are underwritten by Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada (Wellesley Hills, MA) in all states except New York. In New York, group insurance policies are underwritten by Sun Life and Health Insurance Company (U.S.) (Lansing, MI).

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SLPC 31142 09/21 (exp. 09/23)