‘Everything is preventable’: Tackling America’s workplace suicide epidemic | American News

AAt around 4:30 a.m. on January 18 this year, 27-year-old Michael Odell, a travel nurse who worked at Stanford Hospital in Stanford, California, left work for an overnight shift. Two days later, after his roommate reported him missing, Odell’s body was found by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office dive team in the water near the Dumbarton Bridge in San Francisco, with his car.

His roommate, Joshua Paredes, said he witnessed Odell’s deteriorating mental health. Odell worked long hours, had recently moved to the area after the death of his mother and struggled to find a new therapist after his health insurance coverage was cut.

“There were a lot of little gaps he fell into when he moved,” said Paredes, who works as a nurse at another hospital. “I just wish I could listen to him more, or ask him if he was sleeping more, because he’s tired from work and if it was because he was depressed, or create another opportunity for him to reach out. hand if he chose to do so.”

Workplace suicides have increased dramatically since the early 2000s. In 2005, 180 cases were officially reported, in 2019, the latest year for which data is available, the number had risen to 307, the highest number of suicides never recorded since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking workplace deaths by suicide in 1992.

Chart: U.S. workplace suicides up 39% since 2000

The figure is probably underestimated. Many suicides are not included in these data, as they may be difficult to classify as work-related if they occur outside of workplaces or working hours, and suicide cases may involve many contributing factors .

Suicide rates in the United States have increased by about 30% from 2000 to 2018, and the United States has the highest suicide rate of any wealthy country, according to a 2020 Commonwealth Fund report. Suicide was the 12th leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, with 45,979 suicide deaths and an estimated 1.2 million suicide attempts. Between 2000 and 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34 and the fifth leading cause of death among people aged 35 to 54, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Chart: Suicide rates are highest in the United States

Since Odell’s death, Paredes and other friends and colleagues have started a nonprofit organization, Don’t Clock Out, to improve mental health treatment and research in the nursing industry.

“The nurses are exhausted,” Paredes said. “With this project, we are going to be able to provide a lot more free therapies that are not associated with an employer or an insurer, because I think a lot of nurses don’t want to ask for help that will be tied to an employer and to an insurer.

Nurses are among several professions where workers have endured grueling working conditions and traumatic experiences on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic, with large percentages of nurses expressing their intention to leave the industry amid widespread staff shortages, burnout and exacerbated mental health issues. But job stress is widespread, and workers in professions such as doctors and the construction industry have some of the highest suicide rates.

“We don’t really know what causes suicide,” said Dr. April Foreman, executive committee member of the American Association of Suicidology’s board of directors. “We can say that workplaces have an impact on people’s lives. We spend many hours at work. »

Dr Foreman said there was a significant need to improve mental health and suicide prevention resources in the workplace, including improving suicide prevention training and policies, improving employee assistance programs during health insurance coverage transitions and continuing to address the social stigma surrounding mental health care.

“We need to do a much better job of preventing people from having the level of depression, stress and anxiety that builds and builds until they reach that tipping point, and consider really suicide as an option,” Jennifer said. Silacci, founder and executive director of the Therapy Aid Coalition, which has provided free or low-cost therapy to thousands of essential workers during the pandemic.

Evan Seyfried, 40, a Kroger employee for nearly 20 years in Milford, Ohio, died by suicide on March 9, 2021, after suffering months of workplace harassment, intimidation and abuse, according to a lawsuit against Kroger filed by his family in 2021 that is still pending in court.

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Illustration: Maria Medem/The Guardian

Jana Murphy, a close friend of the Seyfried family, organized Justice for Evan, a group that has staged several protests over the past year demanding action from Kroger. The group is pushing not just for justice for the Seyfried family, but for legislation to protect workers from workplace bullying and harassment, like what Evan Seyfried allegedly endured.

“Nobody was helping him. They didn’t want to be the target,” Murphy said. “There are these people now who called me, crying, thinking they could have saved his life because they didn’t did nothing.”

According to the lawsuit, Seyfried began to experience bullying and harassment from his store manager for wearing a face mask at work and refusing his sexual advances. Then the bullying turned into sabotage of his department, intimidation, threats and surveillance. The harassment continued despite reports and complaints filed with Kroger and the local union.

“He’s taken all the proper channels that we’re told to use when these things happen, only to be shut down and not handle them,” said Erica Erskine, a Kroger employee in the southwestern United States. United for 24 Years who has volunteered with the Justice for Evan group since 2021. “This is happening not just at Kroger, but in every line of business, private and public, across the country. Now is the time to bring this to light because of everything that has happened with the pandemic. The workers are finally standing up to say, we are not going to tolerate this kind of treatment anymore, we are tired of being mistreated.

Kroger declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has increased reported mental health problems, particularly among workers in frontline industries, although overall suicide rates have declined by around 3% in 2020. Despite this overall decline, the pandemic has seriously affected the mental health of frontline workers and raised concerns about the lack of mental health resources and support systems, particularly in frontline professions.

“Covid was an exposition of existing issues and compounding variables,” said Dr. Jessica Gold, assistant professor and director of wellness, engagement and outreach at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri. . “Workplaces can be triggers and workplaces can aggravate existing mental health issues or can cause new ones.”

Workers in the United States have committed suicide as a result of grueling working conditions or traumatic workplace events, from four US Capitol officers who worked during the January 6 far-right attack, a worker transit worker in San Jose, Calif., who killed himself in 2021 after surviving a mass shooting at work, and Dr. Lorna Breen, an emergency physician in New York who worked during the first outbreak of Covid-19 in the United States.

“We were all incredibly shocked, as shocked as anyone can be by what had just happened,” said Corey Feist, Breen’s brother-in-law who co-founded the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation with his wife, Jennifer. Breen Feist, to reduce physician burnout and improve mental health care for healthcare workers.

Breen, 49, died in late April 2020, after working as an emergency department physician at Allen Presbyterian Hospital in New York City during the first wave of Covid-19 that hit New York. She contracted Covid herself and returned to work in early April, working 12-16 hour days, and had expressed difficulty trying to keep up with the flood of hospitalizations.

“She had never seen anything like it in her professional career in terms of a clinically-related issue,” Feist said. “Patients were dying in the waiting rooms, there were patients holding their expiring oxygen cylinders in their hands. They weren’t able to get patients into the hospital fast enough. .

On April 9, 2020, Breen called her sister Jennifer from her Manhattan home. She could barely move from her chair, having worked non-stop without sleep for the past week. Breen was afraid to ask for help lest it jeopardize his medical career. Many licensing boards across the United States require healthcare workers to disclose all current or past mental health care they receive.

Breen was admitted to a hospital in Virginia to be closer to his family. On April 26, Breen committed suicide.

In the wake of their grief, Breen’s sister and her husband started a foundation and lobbied for the passage of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which was signed into law by Joe Biden. in March 2022. The bill provided federal funding for mental illness. health education and awareness campaigns for health care workers. The foundation is asking for more funding from organizations involved in these efforts.

“Everything is preventable,” Feist added. “It’s just that people are sick. People don’t have the tools to prevent it, because people don’t talk about it. It is one of those topics that is taboo and hence it is difficult for anyone to reach out to a peer or friend.

In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 and an online chat is also available. You can also text HOME to 741741 to get in touch with a crisis text line counsellor. A list of prevention resources is available here.

In the UK and Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by email at jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis helpline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org

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