Abstract: National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention: Social Work’s Role in Moving Prevention Upstream (Society for Social Work and Research 28th Annual Conference - Recentering & Democratizing Knowledge: The Next 30 Years of Social Work Science)

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395P National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention: Social Work’s Role in Moving Prevention Upstream

Friday, January 12, 2024
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jodi Frey, PhD, Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Yali Deng, MSW, PhD student, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Amanda Mosby, MA, Program Manager, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Background/ Purpose:

The National Workplace Suicide Prevention Guidelines (Guidelines) were developed through an exploratory study with 200+ stakeholders from Human Resources, Employee Assistance Programs, employment lawyers, safety and wellness professionals, peer specialists, and people with suicide lived experience. Results helped to develop Guidelines to move workplaces, including health and social services, to become bold leaders aspiring to zero suicide in the workplace. Dr. Frey co-authored the Guidelines and co-leads the National Committee for Workplace Suicide Prevention. The recent US Surgeon General’s new Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-being solidifies the need for more social workers to serve as partners helping to reduce suicide deaths across the country. This paper describes results from the Guidelines national roll-out pledge process and survey.


The Guidelines launched October 2019. The website (www.WorkplaceSuicidePrevention.com) asks workplaces to pledge to make suicide prevention a health and safety priority and complete a brief survey. The survey asks how workplaces are implementing the Guidelines, barriers faced and next steps to become suicide informed and move prevention efforts upstream. Since launching, over 1600 work organizations took the pledge and 253 completed the survey. Descriptive and bivariate analyses were used to compare the perceived priority of Guidelines across organization size and participants’ workplace roles. Rapid qualitative coding was used to analyze open-ended responses.


Workplaces included small (42%), mid- (33%) and large-sized (25%) organizations, diverse industries, with the largest group representing healthcare and social assistance (45%), and persons completing the survey were primarily leaders or HR professionals (52%). Responses included non-profit (44%), for-profit (34%), and government workplaces (23%). One-third of respondents indicated they were exposed to a workplace suicide during the prior year. Overall, commitment to suicide prevention was strong with 80% of respondents indicating their workplace was completely committed to implementing the Guidelines. Practices ranked highest priority included upstream actions such as bold leadership that cultivates a caring culture, communication that increases awareness, and downstream actions such as mental health and crisis resources. Leaders and HR professionals ranked communication as a significantly higher priority than respondents in other positions (t=-2.87, p=0.004) and smaller workplaces prioritized all Guidelines more than medium and large organizations (e.g. Leadership: F=8.67, p<0.001). For implementation, 42% were offering training, 32% were sharing resources, 15% offered EAP (15%), and 12% offered peer support. Implementation barriers included time (36%), competing priorities (33%), and cost (27%). The majority reported that that wellness and safety programs included mental health literacy and emotional resilience in addition to noting that leadership is aware of psychosocial hazards and actively working to reduce job strain and toxicity. Upstream work was expressed in the qualitative data as well. One respondent said, “With so much focus on individuals, I really like the organization approach for true culture change.”


Social workers continue to be sought by workplaces in diverse roles (HR, EAP, DE&I, management) and bold leadership is needed to support leaders regarding Guidelines implementation to provide a pathway to comprehensive, upstream workplace suicide prevention, creating a more psychologically safe and well working community.