Practice 8: Mitigating Risk: Access to Lethal Means and Legal Issues

When potential for suicide is high, it is important to reduce risk by temporarily removing access to guns, pills, and other lethal means. Address workplace legal concerns with issues like ADA, FMLA, privacy, liability, and others.

Why is this important and what does this practice entail?

 This practice is comprised of two primary areas designed to minimize risk. The first is about reducing access to lethal means, and the second is by being aware of best practices for workplace risk management related to suicide prevention.

Reduction to Access to Lethal Means. When it comes to suicide prevention, time is our friend. When we have time on our side, we have an opportunity for things to change. Unfortunately, easy access to lethal means can remove this opportunity for a second chance. Sometimes the work itself gives the distressed person access to lethal means — like physicians and medication or construction workers and high places. Peer supporters and supervisors can learn how to have collaborative discussions with workers on how they can reduce this access when they are in crisis.

Reducing Workplace Risk

Retired Judge Mary McClatchey specializes in HR and mental health issues. From the bench, she witnessed many employers escalating a silent suicide spiral when they do not consider that an employee’s emotional un-wellness may be the root cause of their performance decline. Sometimes in these situations, managers are taught to address poor performance through a performance management tool that can feel like micromanagement. An already distressed employee then experiences increased pressure and disconnection that can intensify suicidal thoughts. Should the employee need to take medical leave, the opportunity for re-integration is limited because the relationship is so strained. Litigation may result.

By contrast, aware managers may stop the cycle by making a few adjustments in their response. In this situation, the problems start in the same place. An employee’s performance declines due to a mental health condition, extreme environmental distress or suicidal despair. In this scenario, however, the manager recognizes this. Instead of the performance management approach, the manager says something like, “Sometimes people’s work performance is impacted when they have issues going on in their lives. I don’t need to know if that is true for you, but what I can tell you is that if you do have something going on, I am here to support you. You are part of this family, and you matter to our mission. I can help you get connected to resources like our employee assistance program. Would it help if you had a workplace support buddy to check in with? Are there any tweaks we can make to your job that will help you get through this difficult patch?”

With this more collaborative and empathic approach, trust is established and the employee feels valued and understood. Because, mental health conditions like depression and addiction can be insidious, sometimes managers may need to go around the circle more than once. In these instances, you can offer a “second chance” agreement to help workers re-engage in their wellness.

Action Steps:

1. At least one person connected to mental health support at work (wellness, security, peer specialists, employee assistance) complete the CALM Training:

Complete Practice 8 to earn the Mitigating Risk Badge

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