In the United States, every 40 seconds someone attempts suicide. Every 17 minutes someone succeeds.
Those numbers provided by the American Society for Suicide Prevention may seem high, but given the state of the economy, they are not surprising.
Just like during the Great Depression, suicide rates increase along with unemployment rates and a struggling economy.
While the stress of finding a job is high for the unemployed, the anxiety, guilt and stress for those left working are also increasing.
Don Jorgensen, of the Jorgensen Brooks Group, said depression is not limited to the people being laid off; it is expanding into the workplace, where employees are being asked to do more with fewer resources.
Prior to the 2008 recession, American workers spent time expecting to get the customary annual raise or Christmas bonus. Now, they just hope to keep a job.
From working with hospitals, casinos, mines and public entities, such as the Town of Marana, Jorgensen said they are continually dealing with the reality of how tough a slow economy can be on society.
The Jorgensen Brooks Group provides employee assistance programs tailored to private and public employers. The company focuses on work-life, crisis response and workplace training services in the southwest.
“With the individual, there are usually two extremes,” said Jorgensen. “They are either feeling depressed or guilty. The workplace is full of guilt. There are people who feel isolated and separated. Internally, you have people who have the perception of complete loss. In the workplace, you have someone who will identify with the job so much that it becomes their identity. ‘If I lose my job, I lose my value.’ That can lead to depression, and sometimes suicide.”
According to the American Society for Suicide Prevention, symptoms of someone considering suicide include: abuse of alcohol or drugs combined with depression, dramatic mood swings, statements of hopelessness, acting withdrawn from others, uncontrollable rage, a desire for revenge, blatant recklessness, feeling trapped and having a high level of cynicism toward others or the employer.
If someone in the office or workplace is displaying these symptoms, Jorgensen said it is important to notify a supervisor immediately.
When a person makes the decision to commit suicide, they will become noticeably calm. A suicidal person’s decision provides relief because they have found a “solution” to their problems, Jorgensen said.
A suicidal person will make a checklist of to-dos, such as giving away personal belongings, or making comments that things would be better without them.
“First of all, every workplace has stress and every workplace has issues,” Jorgensen said. “The number one reason people seek us out for assistance for counseling or assistance is due to relationship problems. It doesn’t matter if you work in a mine or a school, we are all humans.”
Most suicides are linked to relationship problems at home, but the signs are more obvious on the job, Jorgensen said. Because of this, it is important for co-workers and supervisors to be on heightened alert.
“Whether (suicides) occur on the job or off the job, it’s related and it affects the workplace,” he said. “We’ve had several cases in the last year where a suicide had nothing to do with the workplace. It was a marital issue or something else.”
Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath, who owns a dental office, said he’s seeing the stress not only as a town mayor, but also as an employer.
“Unfortunately, it’s problematic because the things we need in this world cost money,” he said. “To be able to buy what we need, you have to have a job.”
In Arizona, unemployment remains high at 9.3 percent, while the nation holds steady at 9.1 percent.
However, the state has improved slightly over the last 12 months. In September 2010, Arizona had a 9.9 percent unemployment rate.
Since 2008, the Town of Marana has reduced its workforce by 70; the Town of Oro Valley has cut nearly 60 employees.
With all the cutbacks, those left behind must fill in the gaps left in the workload.
That means on-the-job stress has increased immensely for public and private entities, as employees are asked to do more with less and do without pay increases, all the while worrying that their position could be eliminated at any time.
In Oro Valley, Interim Town Manager Greg Caton is no stranger to increased responsibilities. With cutbacks, Caton went above and beyond his job description over the last year after the town manager left to accept a position in Flagstaff. He covered not only his duties as assistant town manager and public information officer, but also took over the town manager’s responsibilities.
Now, standing in the town’s top position, Caton is still assisting his staff to make sure the work gets done.
“Our employees have handled it remarkably well,” Caton said. “They are truly asked to do more. A lot of times a company reduces its staff and the workload decreases. In municipalities, the majority of the work still has to be done despite the economy.”
To cut some of the workload, Oro Valley recently hired Misti Nowak to cover the communications department.
Hiremath said oftentimes, due to the messages being sent by news media reports and many employers, it’s unfortunate that employees feel they could be fired if they don’t work beyond the duties specified in their job description.
“Sometimes it’s like the deer caught in the headlight look. They have no idea how they can get all of it done,” said Hiremath. “There is this idea that if they don’t want to do all the work, someone without a job will gladly step in and do it. I think this is a disrespectful approach.”
Jorgensen said morale in the workplace has decreased with the economy, and picking it up can be tough for private and public entities.
“It has been a challenge for our company to get through this. With those layoffs, it reduced our revenues,” he said. “But, at the same time, it increased calls for assistance. We have helped many organizations cope with layoffs, prepare supervisors for the layoffs and worked with employees who remain post layoff. Just dealing with all of the reactions that go with it can be tough.”
The Town of Marana called Jorgensen Brooks prior to laying off workers when the economy slowed in 2008.
Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said there’s been a lot of concern for employee welfare over the last three years. Some of that concern is subsiding now that the town’s budget has improved, and the hiring freeze has been lifted.
“We have really tried to communicate with our staff on where we are and what we’re doing,” Davidson said. “Supervisors are given the duty of monitoring our employees, and watching for signs of burnout.”
And burnout is exactly what some employees have experienced. While not providing exact numbers, both Marana and Oro Valley have had cases where an employee was doing too much, getting too stressed and having to be sent on vacation, or asked to take some personal time off.
“We have come to a point where we tell the employees they can’t do everything,” said Davidson. “You just can’t cut staff and expect to have the same amount of services. But, at the same time, we are in a time where people are just thankful to have a job.”
The other issue Hiremath and Jorgensen have observed is the change in how the workforce is aligned. At one time high school and college students cornered the market for fast food and grocery store jobs. However, due to unemployment, adults are taking over these jobs.
Jorgensen described a bottleneck effect, where the young workers are no longer getting valuable work experience, and the adults are becoming more depressed because of the lesser positions they have been forced to take.
With unemployment rates holding steady nationwide at just over 9 percent, Jorgensen said there is no end in sight. He said his company is going to continue being available to employers who need vital assistance in tough times.
For immediate assistance for you or for a family member, call 911, 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK.
Every 40 seconds someone attempts suicide. Every 17 minutes someone succeeds.
Warning signs include:
• Abuse of alcohol or drugs combined with depression
• Dramatic mood swings
• Statements of hopelessness
• Acting withdrawn from others
• Uncontrollable rage
• A desire for revenge
• Feeling trapped
For assistance, call 1-800-SUICIDE or
1-800-273-TALK. For local assistance, visit Arizona Suicide Prevention Coalition at www.azspc.org.
For other information, visit
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