The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has teamed up with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division of the United States Department of Labor, to foster greater workplace awareness of mental wellness and suicide prevention issues. The initiative is part of OSHA’s Alliance Program, through which the agency builds voluntary collaborations with organizations whose missions also involve the wellbeing of people in the workplace.
The long shadow of suicide
This alliance for a good cause is especially important because suicide is one of the leading causes of death in American adults of working age. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed suicide among the 10 leading causes of death in the country overall, along with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
The impact of suicide on individuals, families, communities, and organizations is immense and long-lasting. People who have lost a loved one or friend to suicide are statistically more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and disabling grief. They may also be more likely to develop suicidal ideation themselves. Though it wasn't always the case, today, suicide has rightfully become recognized as a serious public health issue.
Talk Saves Lives
The partnership agreement between the two organizations, signed in early September 2022, will see AFSP and OSHA join together at the national level to give people in the workplace crucial information and resources on suicide prevention, in multiple languages.
These resources include the AFSP-produced informational series Talk Saves Lives. These online, 45-60-minute educational presentations, available across the country in both English and Spanish, are offered through local AFSP host chapters. A nationwide schedule is accessible at AFSP.org/calendar. In 2022 during September—which is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month—locations from South Texas to Virginia to New Jersey and beyond hosted Talk Saves Lives events.
Talk Saves Lives attendees learn about the most recent scientific research into the risk factors and warning signs of suicide, as well as about the most effective means of suicide prevention. Perhaps most important, they learn how they can join together with others to prevent suicide in their communities.
The Talk Saves Lives program is customizable to meet the needs of specific at-risk communities. There are programs devoted solely to preventing suicide among senior adults, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people in correctional settings, and people in the workplace.
The workplace-focused Talk Saves Lives presentation offers an hour of information specifically directed to managers, other organizational leaders, and front-line employees. Participants become familiar with current data, research, and statistics; health-related, environmental, and other risk factors; warning signs to look out for, and protective factors that make suicide less likely. They also learn what to do if they or someone they know experiences a suicidal episode or crisis.
Getting vital information into people’s hands
Another major component of the AFSP/OSHA alliance involves information-sharing between the two organizations. For one thing, the alliance is looking to incorporate contributions from AFSP into a new section discussing traumatic stress in OSHA safety and health directives. AFSP’s leadership might also help OSHA update its webpage dealing with suicide prevention. In addition, AFSP and OSHA are looking toward joint public education programs during future Suicide Prevention Awareness Months, as well as during Construction Suicide Prevention Week early in September.
The AFSP/OSHA alliance grew out of an earlier partnership between the agency and the AFSP Northeastern Division, serving chapters in the New England area. Renewed in March 2022, this earlier agreement resulted in the production of extensive informational resources for corporate and medical audiences, as well as trade groups. The AFSP also assisted in creating an OSHA-sponsored workplace poster describing five key points essential to suicide prevention:
Everyone is able to step up and help prevent suicide.
Understand the warning signs that may indicate someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Ask coworkers whose behavior concerns you, “Are you OK?” and help them get help.
Stay with someone experiencing a suicidal crisis until help arrives.
Know where to reach out for resources.
Because people who work closely together tend to know one another’s moods and behaviors, the workplace is one location where any of us could have the opportunity to save someone else’s life.
Both AFSP and OSHA celebrated their new, expanded partnership by noting how important it is to remove barriers that prevent people in crisis from getting the information, sense of connection, and help they need. There’s nothing more important than encouraging the mental and emotional wellbeing of all workers, and giving people more options to find the help that could save their lives.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, or if you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, AFSP wants you to know you’re not alone. Call or text 988 any time, day or night, to reach trained and caring crisis counselors at the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Or text “TALK” to 741741 to reach counselors at the Crisis Text Line.