It is estimated that more than 3,000,000 Canadians have been affected by suicide. It is likely that many people in every workplace have known someone who has died by suicide, and most will suffer their grief in silence.

Workplaces can play an important role in supporting people who have lost someone to suicide. Suicide deaths that could impact the workplace include an employee or employer, clients, vendors, or a family member of an employee. Alternatively, if any of those people engaged in deliberate self-harm with intent to die, that, too, would likely impact a workplace.

When a suicide has occurred within the workplace, it is critically important that your workplace is knowledgeable about how suicide loss and grief is different than other loss and grief. A supportive and suicide-safer workplace uses that knowledge to support those who are bereaved through their unique grieving process.

Suicide loss is profoundly different than other losses and grief because it is an intentional act that can have crippling effects on family, friends, other survivors, and the workplace. Research shows that those closest to the person who died by suicide are themselves vulnerable to self-harm. In fact, they are at 40 times greater risk of suicide themselves because of the suicide loss (LivingWorks Canada, 2006). There is no doubt that the impact on survivors can be profound, long lasting, and life changing.

Suicide postvention is psychological first aid for those bereaved by suicide (a.k.a., “survivors of suicide loss”). Postvention is ultimately about hope, about re-establishing hope in a person, a community or workplace that has been devastated by a suicide death.

Postvention is Prevention

Postvention and prevention represent a cycle where each informs the other. How we handle the crisis of a suicide death impacts how people respond to future suicides. When postvention is not addressed or approached incorrectly, the risk for future suicides can increase. Because those who are bereaved by suicide are at increased risk for becoming suicidal themselves, an appropriate response can make the difference between life and death.

Prevention efforts are bolstered by what is learned in the postvention process when we ask, “What are the policies, services, messages and supports needed to save lives?”

Goals of Postvention

1. To stabilize the workplace community and to help individuals at all levels of the organization (and related family/community) to cope with the trauma and grief. If not supported well, surviving suicide loss may lead to other psychological conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and substance abuse. While the initial hours and days following a suicide can make a big difference for survivors and their subsequent emotional healing, longer-term support may also be needed.

2. To prevent further suicides. Suicide contagion, or the copycat effects of suicide, are often seen in younger high-risk adolescents, but can also happen among vulnerable adults. Postvention practices work toward minimizing the factors that might make copycat suicide more likely.

3. To help the workplace return to normalcy and the pursuit of its mission. Rumours, second guessing, and blame can create critical rifts in the workplace family; therefore, containing these potential rifts is necessary to help reassure people while giving them appropriate means to express their feelings. This includes finding a balance between providing support for those who need it and letting others get back to their regular lives. After an initial expression of grief, most employees in a workplace may be able to return to a normal routine more quickly than in those workplaces that are denied an opportunity to express openly.

(Source: WorkingMinds, www.workingminds.org.)

To learn more about supporting someone bereaved by suicide, CLICK HERE to download “A Guide for Early Responders Supporting Survivors Bereaved by Suicide”

CLICK HERE to download the handbook “After a Suicide”