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You are here: Home > Distressed Faculty & Staff > Specific Problems > The Suicidal Employee

The Suicidal Employee

The suicidal employee may be very ambivalent about killing himself/herself and typically responds to help.  These feelings are usually time limited, and most people who commit suicide are neither crazy nor psychotic.  High risk indicators include feelings of hopelessness and futility; a severe loss or threat of loss; a detailed suicidal plan; history of a previous attempt; history of alcohol or drug abuse; and feelings of alienation and isolation.  Suicidal employees usually want to communicate their feelings; any opportunity to do so should be encouraged.  Suicide lethality can be determined by using SLAP.



Specificity of the plan (more details = higher lethality).

Lethality of method (e.g., gun = more lethal than aspirin). 

Availability of method (more available = higher lethality).

Proximity of social support (farther away = higher lethality)



  • Take the employee seriously (80 percent of suicides give warning of their intent).
  • Acknowledge that a threat of or attempt at suicide is a plea for help.
  • Be available to listen, to talk, and to be concerned, but refer the employee to the Employee Assistance Program, or other appropriate agency.  Offer to escort the employee to the EAP Office. 
  • Take care of yourself. Helping someone who is suicidal is hard, demanding, and draining work.  Consult with EAP. 
  • Problem solve only if the employee appears interested in generating solutions.



  • Minimize the situation or the depth of her/his feelings by saying: "Oh, it will be much better tomorrow."
  • Say, "But you have everything to live for."
  • Be afraid to ask the person if they are so depressed or sad that they want to hurt themselves.  You may want to say: "You seem so upset and discouraged that I'm wondering if you are considering suicide".
  • Over commit yourself and, therefore, not be able to deliver on what you promise.
  • Ignore your limitations.  Seek assistance.
  • Agree to be bound by confidentiality.  You are not.
by sebenl99 — last modified Oct 24, 2012 10:38 AM