In this episode, host Becca Banyard is joined by Tara Adams—Founder of Abridge Consulting—to discuss how organizations can create suicide safer environments: workplaces that promote wellbeing, prevent harm, and are prepared in the case of an emergency or crisis.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or has been affected by suicide, please know that you are not alone and help is available. You can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 (USA) or Talk Suicide Canada at 1-833-456-4566 for 24/7 support.
- Tara’s background [0:49]
- Founder of Abridge Consulting
- She has a non-clinical role, and specializes in workplace mental health and workplace suicide prevention.
- How often suicide impacts workplaces [1:33]
- Based on the stats very, very often. If not the employees then their friends and family—it is happening whether we know it or not.
- Are workplaces even equipped to mitigate the risk and impacts of suicide? [2:34]
- Almost universally NO.
- The easiest way to explain it is by asking two questions:
- How many of us have been in a conversation that includes the word suicide? And, how many of us have had training?
Suicide can feel like a scary thing to think about, but not thinking about it doesn’t mean it’s not there.Tara Adams
- Why are some workplaces hesitant to address suicide? [6:17]
- It is an emotional and heavy topic.
- There’s a common myth that when folks learn about and talk about suicide, it could promote the idea. But that’s not the case.
- In fact, when somebody with thoughts of suicide can enter the conversation and even say the word suicide, it’s sending a message of: “You can talk to me. I can talk about this with you.”
- It’s scary, but we could get some basic awareness and basic skills out to a lot of the population and make a huge difference.
- What is the employer’s obligation to address suicide? [7:50]
- The employer’s obligation is to promote wellbeing and to prevent harm, NOT to make sure all employees are in good mental health.
- Plan for emergencies and crises.
- Provide support before, during, and after an employee is in crisis. This includes both the person who may have thoughts of suicide and those who are impacted.
- Also more generally there is the Duty to Inquire, the Duty to Accommodate and the Duty to Care.
Employers are responsible for two things: to promote wellbeing and to prevent harm.Tara Adams
- Why should employers be thinking about workplace suicide prevention? [12:10]
- It’s the right thing to do.
- It’s good for the business.
- Decrease employees’ stress and increase confidence.
- Could prevent a loss to suicide, which is low risk but very high impact.
- Tips or resources for employers looking to create suicide safer workplaces [14:39]
- Save the suicide hotline on your phone.
- Talk Suicide Canada (1-833-456-4566)
- US 988 (will also have in Canada on Nov 2023)
- Think about your language and communication around the topic of suicide.
- There are two language changes: committed suicide vs. died by suicide and suicidal vs. thoughts of suicide
- Be less afraid of the idea that people have thoughts of suicide and be open to conversation.
- If you don’t have training and you don’t know what to say, then the best thing to say is “I don’t know what to say right now but I am so glad you told me.”
- Save the suicide hotline on your phone.
- Tara’s vision for the future of workplace suicide prevention [18:07]
- That every employer has workplace mental health and workplace suicide prevention in their onboarding so that every employee in our community would have some basic skills.
Meet Our Guest
Tara specializes in workplace mental health and workplace suicide prevention. She is also available for consulting as well as public speaking, moderating and as an emcee.
In 2011, she created her personal vision: happy, healthy, and grateful. By honoring health and wellness in her personal life more tangibly, her career evolved to align with her core values and skills.
After a decade in corporate wellness, in 2020 Tara founded Abridge Consulting. Her vision is simple – get more people, more help, sooner. She believes we can all learn how to be a bridge between people struggling with their mental health to the support they need and deserve.
My vision is that every single company’s onboarding includes something about creating a suicide safer workplace.Tara Adams
- Join the People Managing People community forum
- Subscribe to the newsletter to get our latest articles and podcasts
- Connect with Tara on LinkedIn
- Check out Abridge Consulting
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Becca Banyard: Welcome to the People Managing People Podcast. We are on a mission to build a better world of work and to help you create happy, healthy, and productive workplaces. I'm your host, Becca Banyard.
Today I'm joined by Tara Adams—Founder of Abridge Consulting—to discuss a rather weighty topic that deserves more attention: How organizations can create suicide safer environments, or rather workplaces that promote wellbeing, prevent harm, and are prepared in the case of an emergency or crisis.
Our conversation will touch on matters of employer obligation, corporate mental health training, and helpful resources for employers to ensure that leaders and organizations are equipped to create these safer spaces that foster mental health.
Tara, welcome to the show. It is so great to have you here today. Really looking forward to this conversation around suicide safer workplaces. But before we dive in, I just wondered if you could share a little bit with our listeners about yourself and what's top of mind these days for you?
Tara Adams: Sounds great. Happy to be here. So I'm Tara Adams. I started Abridge Consulting.
I have a non-clinical role. I specialize in workplace mental health and workplace suicide prevention. I also have one husband, two kids, two dogs, four tennis rackets, and two minivans. So I'm one of the people just doing my best out here.
Becca Banyard: So we know that, you know, suicide really impacts communities, it impacts families, individuals, friends. But how often do you think suicide impacts workplaces?
Tara Adams: A lot more than perhaps employers and employees think about. And even when, you know, when we start talking about prevalence, perhaps one thing we should think about is folks listening to our podcast and this topic. And that we want to set some psychological health and safety for folks.
So it is my favorite topic to talk about, but it can also be heavy. So for folks who are listening, we're not gonna be getting into individual stories of suicide. We're gonna be talking at quite a high level. However, if you are uncomfortable or if you need to take a break or you need to access some support, please make that your priority.
As we get into this interesting topic and discussion, it's always good to think about some safety for the folks who are listening and for the two of us as well.
Becca Banyard: Absolutely. Thank you. So back to your question about prevalence, the data is pretty clear that thoughts of suicide are one more, very common.
So if you are an employer who isn't thinking about creating a suicide saver workplace or offering perhaps some suicide prevention training, it doesn't mean that those things are not happening. Plus, there's the ripple effect of the prevalence among your employees is one piece. But we know that people come to work as part of a system, and whether that's your spouse and children, whatever your family, your tribe happens to be.
That even if it's not your direct employee that may have thoughts of suicide, it is the people around them and they are impacted as well. So the prevalence of those who die by suicide is of course much, much lower. So often with employers, I say, let's just talk about the prevalence of thoughts of suicide.
A very, very common among your employees and among their tribe, their family and friends as well. Do you feel that workplaces are equipped at the moment to mitigate the risk and the impacts of suicide?
Tara Adams: I would have to say pretty much no. I work with organizations across Canada and there's certainly some real thought leaders and modern approaches to workplace mental health.
I could name some really amazing companies out there and clients, but I would say, I could think of one, maybe two, that are really addressing workplace suicide prevention and building that suicide safer workplace. And I can tell you that I've been thinking a lot the last few weeks about employers, the clients, the folks that I talk to have some real hesitancy around bringing the topic forward, and I understand that.
But in the last four years, whenever I do have a client that decides to go forward with either some awareness or some training, it lands very well. And often it's an optional thing and the class fills up right away. And then the sort of the organizer or employer's like, oh, I wasn't expecting that. And maybe that ties back to your first question, Becca, around the prevalence.
So we're not thinking that this is something everyone's gonna be interested in or a lot of folks are interested in. And then in fact, it is hitting home and it is landing for folks. So I think even a couple of days ago, I got an anonymous email from someone in one of my training classes talking about her child was acting differently.
So she had some intuition that something was going on, and she ended up having this really great conversation. It turned out her son was not the person having thoughts of suicide. It was his friend. And the thing about this story is these two children were 11. So the, the email it, of course it's scary to hear those things, but the positive of that story was that this person said, I felt equipped to have the discussion with my child.
So here the employer has provided this training, to your question. And of course we're hoping to support the folks who work at that company. But of course, there's that ripple effect out to that person's village and their tribe, and in this case, her child and the child's friend. So that made my week, made my month.
Even though I know it can feel like a scary thing to think about, not thinking about it doesn't mean it's not there, right?
Becca Banyard: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, definitely. Now, you said something really interesting and I'm curious about why are some workplaces hesitant to address suicide?
Tara Adams: Well, it is an emotional and heavy topic for folks, and who knows what the lived experience might be of that person making the decision.
So first of all, very valid. I think also there's a common myth out there that when folks learn about and talk about suicide, it could promote the idea. And in fact, we know that's not the case. It's not that we're suggesting suicide to folks. And this idea that the more you talk about it, the more you could make someone uncomfortable or make it worst.
And in fact, what we know is that when somebody around that person with thoughts of suicide can enter the conversation and even say the word suicide, it's sending a message of, you can talk to me. I can talk about this with you. And you don't need quite as much training as you might think to have these initial conversations.
And I know it's scary. But I do believe we could get some basic awareness and basic skills out to a lot of the population and make a huge difference. And then that suicide safer workplace builds on those layers. So many folks have a little bit of training, a little bit less, has more training, and much less has a lot of training.
So we think about all these different layers, all these different roles, and how they network together and build this suicide safer workplace.
Becca Banyard: So it sounds like employers can have quite an impact when it comes to the conversation around suicide, but what is their obligation as an employer to address suicide?
Tara Adams: And this is also feeding off your last question. I think it's another reason why employers are sometimes hesitant. You know, what if I open this idea and we're not prepared to handle the consequences, the stories that may come forward, the folks that may come forward? So in fact, employers are responsible for two things, which is to promote wellbeing and to prevent harm.
Now what does that mean? Both of those two things are quite vague. So I'm going to promote wellbeing and prevent harm. And in fact, there's really no way that an employer could guarantee every employee has good mental health and we have no employees who have thoughts of suicide. So it's not reasonable on the part of the employer.
So if your obligation is to promote wellbeing and prevent harm, then offering folks some awareness around suicide will help with that and offering folks training will help with that. There's also a piece though around being able to provide support in a crisis and that could look like things like your internal policies.
So really thinking through the idea of what would we do when a person might be in crisis before, during, and after, and what are the resources we have available? Who are the people who would be involved in supporting a crisis before, during, and after? So there's some policy and some internal resources and some pieces like that are really important as well.
But those are conversations and for any employer out there thinking about a suicide safer workplace, and it feels like a big overwhelming project, you can start slowly. Having something is better than nothing. Having the first conversations and not having all the answers is where we all start.
It's okay, right? So we start with, okay, well, we don't have a policy and maybe we don't have all the internal resources, but we could talk about awareness, and I know these three people would be part of that process. Or wherever you need to start is fine. Getting started is maybe the hardest part, and then those things evolve.
The policy, the procedure, the resources, the awareness, all of that, it evolves.
Becca Banyard: Right. So for somebody who is looking to get started with improving the mental health in their workplace and making their workplace essentially suicide safer, what are some of the first things that you would recommend somebody address?
Tara Adams: I think there's always some stakeholders, and again, if you're a very small company, you know, perhaps there's only 5, 10, 20 folks, it's still doable. But if you're in a large company, you know, you'd look to your folks who might be in people and culture, occupational health and safety, the folks who own your internal policies, your crisis management system, your crisis response procedures, all of that.
Do we have anything in there around someone who may have thoughts of suicide? Could attempt a suicide, could die by suicide? Do we have we thought about any of that? So that will lead you down one path of work that needs to be done at your own pace, depending on all your resources. And then the idea of do the people leaders in my organization, would they know what to do if a person on their team had thoughts of suicide?
And if the answer is no, then there's lots of ways we could introduce the conversation. It certainly is not something you wanna do too far, too fast. I certainly don't recommend if a client and I are working together, Hey, let's start with suicide prevention, and then we'll think about some other stuff.
Always trying to make sure there's a mental health literacy within that organization, and then we set the table, then we can start to dive into this topic. There is an exception. In my experience, if there is an employer who has had a loss to suicide, sometimes coming in not right away, but at an appropriate time to offer the training and the skills can help with the healing, can help folks feel a little more in control.
If this ever happened again, I would have a better sense of what to do. But typically there's some things we would wanna put in place before we jumped into this topic. Does that make sense?
Becca Banyard: Right. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. We would both agree that it's important for workplaces to promote mental health and to create suicide safer environments. But why do you believe more employers should be thinking about workplace suicide prevention? Especially since, you know, you mentioned before, their obligation is to promote wellbeing and prevent harm. It's not necessarily to prevent suicide entirely, because you know they can't do that.
Tara Adams: Right. Well, I mean, the easy answer is it's the right thing to do. That's the easy answer. It's the right thing to do, is to help folks and do our part in preventing suicide where possible. But you know, it's not that hard to make the business case either, and I know that's the facts, right? This is the facts of when you're running a company for-profit, non-for-profit, doesn't matter.
If we can't substantiate why we're doing this and we're losing money and the whole company goes bankrupt because everybody got suicide prevention training, this isn't gonna work. So being able to talk about the business case where there's lots of layers. So when your employees have a little bit more training, what we're hoping to do is to decrease their stress and increase their confidence around this topic.
So in fact, you're helping the employees that you have on the payroll. Then in most cases, depending on your industry, you have clients, you have internal clients, external clients, that kind of thing. You're not obligated to protect and promote the wellbeing and prevent risk of all your clients, but lo and behold, that's a ripple effect.
Then you have all the folks in the tribe of all your employees as well. You have employees who themselves have thoughts of suicide, so the business case starts to really add up. And even though a death by suicide would be far less common, the impact of some a situation like that is huge and long lasting.
So it's not like that is something that's gonna happen frequently, but when it does, it has a huge impact. The thoughts of suicide are happening frequently. So the more we can have these safe conversations with folks and offer them some help, even though we ourselves may not be the experts, we just connect them to more help, the better it is for business.
And that sounds like an awful thing to say, but it is the truth. It's the truth. So number one, it's the right thing to do. Number two, it's good for business.
Becca Banyard: Wow. Right. That's really interesting. So for employers then who are looking to create suicide safer workplaces, what kind of tips and resources can you recommend for them?
Tara Adams: Well, it will depend on what country you live in or perhaps your local policies, legislation, resources, things like that. So in a really general sense, cuz folks I suppose are anywhere in the world listening to Becca and the People Managing People podcasts. So, but in general, I know in Canada, I'm a huge fan of the Talk Suicide Canada phone number.
And every single training I do, I have folks add the phone number in their phone while I'm in the class and I say, I wanna see your head looking down at your phone right now. Put it in your phone. In the United States, congratulations, you have launched a new number that is 988. So that's one of those three digit numbers and it's a suicide hotline.
I'm so proud of you. We're catching up soon in Canada from what I know. We will also have 988 in November 2023. So stay tuned. So whatever your jurisdiction, figure out one or two hotlines. Do that. If you are a company that has EAP - Employee Assistance Program, again, probably you have more than two or 300 employees to have an EAP, so it may not apply to you, and that's okay.
But if you do have that EAP bought and paid for, my goodness, get that phone number in every single employee's phone. Not on email. In their phone, cuz we want folks to have a way to connect to people with more training. So that would be it. And then I think the last thing, just so we are not gonna make it too complicated, too fast, is look at your language and communication around the topic of suicide.
So there's two language changes that are really important to creating a safe space for this conversation. The first one is that we wanna recognize that folks do not commit suicide. It's not selfish, it's not a crime. This is old language that is quite baked into our society. And so perhaps you will read something in the news tomorrow and it'll use this old language, but we are pushing ourselves to remind ourselves that folks die by suicide.
And there's many reasons, but the way you talk about the people you may have lost, I know I've lost folks to suicide. And when I think about them and when I talk about them, they died by suicide. It makes a big difference. The second one, because the thoughts of suicide are so common is even more important.
So if you can move away from saying a person is suicidal, so Tara is suicidal, as if that is all of who I am, will move to a place of I have thoughts of suicide or I live with thoughts of suicide. And something that's so interesting to me is that there are people who may live with thoughts of suicide their whole life.
There's some people, it's fleeting, and it happened one time. There's some people it could come and go. There's some people who could learn to live with those thoughts of suicide their whole life. So it's really important to separate. You are a whole human being. Nothing is wrong with. You have thoughts of suicide, now let's see what we can do to help. So those are my two language things, and those are a couple of phone numbers.
Becca Banyard: Wow. Thank you for sharing that. So looking ahead to the future, I know we just entered 2023, and so what is your vision for the future of workplace suicide prevention? What would you like to see in the future?
Tara Adams: Oh, well, I love this question and I have to give credit to an amazing colleague of mine because it was in a conversation with her where I figured out what my vision was just so quickly. Her vision is also inspiring. So someone asked her the same question and her focus is not so much in the workplace, but out in the community doing this work.
And she just quickly said, my vision of the future is every young person puts suicide prevention training on their resume cuz they're so proud of it. And it's just a really common thing that teenagers take suicide prevention training and it's on their resume. And I thought, yeah, like wouldn't that be cool? I took the babysitting course and I took the suicide prevention like, yeah.
And I just quickly thought, okay, so my vision is that every employer, small, medium, large, when it comes to your onboarding, whatever that looks like. For some folks, it's welcome. On the first day, let's have a coffee. For some folks, there's a five day, you know, offsite training. My vision is every single company's onboarding includes something about creating a suicide safer workplace.
So it's welcome to the company. This is how we do things here. It's not about you in particular. Look like you might need to talk about this. But welcome to our culture. This is how we do things here. This is how we take care of people. So it's pretty big and bold. But yeah, there's something about suicide safeness that is in the onboarding for every company.
Becca Banyard: That's amazing. I love that. I would love to see in the next few years, five years, 10 years, that to become the norm.
Tara Adams: Sure. Let's do it.
Becca Banyard: Yeah, let's do it. Well, that's all the time we have for today, but Tara, it's been so amazing having you on the show. And thank you so much for all the insights, all the expertise, all the wisdom that you shared with us today.
I know we only just scratched the surface, but you know, it's such an important conversation to have and to continue having. So thank you again for joining. Now, if people want to connect with you or learn more about how they can improve mental health in their workplaces, where can they find you?
Tara Adams: Well, my social media isn't too cool and trendy. I tend to stick to LinkedIn, so a lot of people reach out to me on LinkedIn. I'm pretty easy to find. Tara Adams. Abridge Consulting. So don't be shy if you wanna connect or have a question around workplace suicide prevention. If I can't answer it, I certainly have a network of amazing colleagues as well.
Becca Banyard: Amazing. We'll be sure to include your LinkedIn in the show notes as well. Thank you again.
As always, if you like what you heard, please subscribe and stay in touch on peoplemanagingpeople.com and be sure to leave us a review on iTunes. And until next time, thanks so much for listening.