The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Suicide Prevention and Awareness: Four Ways HR Can Lead the Conversation

This blog post was contributed by Maureen De Armond, Executive Director, Human Resources at Drake University.

In higher education, we must plan for many worst-case scenarios, including tornados, fires, active-shooter situations, and, as we now know, pandemics. Among this wide range of difficult scenarios that could present themselves on our campuses at any time, suicide is one that deserves more attention and discussion.

Like other scenarios, suicide prevention and planning should contain at least these components: awareness and prevention at the front end; crisis-response protocols to deploy in the moment; and post-incident support and debriefing.

Here are four ways HR can take the lead on awareness and prevention efforts:

Normalize Mental Health Conversations

HR can set the example in normalizing conversations about mental health. From new employee orientation to leadership trainings to trainings offered during open enrollment, make mental health as normal a topic to discuss as being sick with the flu or needing rehab due to an injured back. We know that mental health carries a stigma; openly discussing mental health helps chip away at that stigma.

Coordinate Messaging

Tailor communications to your institution’s practices and use more than one channel for communication. If your institution sends newsletters, plan articles for each week of September. Consider emails as well. Be sure to provide your leadership teams with prepared messages and information they can share with their teams. Point them to helplines, training opportunities, reminders about EAPs, and tips for what to do and where to go if they or someone they know is having mental health crisis.

Collaborative messaging sent from campus and community partners can also create a widespread impact. Consider reaching out to student services, the provost’s office, Title IX/Equal Opportunity, campus safety, student senate, faculty senate, student counseling, faculty subject matter experts, and your institution’s employee assistance program (EAP) providers and health plan partners to team up on mental health messaging throughout the month.

Train, Train, Train

Offer learning and development opportunities that focus on mental health awareness as well as suicide prevention. This fall semester, Drake University is offering Question, Persuade and Refer suicide prevention training in addition to Mental Health First Aid for Higher Education for faculty and staff. Faculty partners are facilitating these sessions. We’ve found that having faculty-led sessions can help attract faculty attendees, leverage internal expertise and offer faculty additional forms of service to the institution.

Inventory Resources, Benefits and Policies

Take a fresh look at your well-being/wellness programming. Does it appropriately address mental health? Explore what resources and trainings may be available through your existing EAP contracts. Does your health plan offer virtual doctor’s visits for mental health care? If so, shine a spotlight on those resources. Making mental health care as accessible as possible may mean more people will consider using it. Review sick, personal and other paid-time-off leave policies to ensure mental health is clearly addressed. This includes handbook and web language, too.

While suicide awareness and prevention shouldn’t be a once-a-year conversation, September is a great month for HR to demonstrate leadership in normalizing conversations about mental health and suicide prevention and planning.

Related resources:

Reassessing Your Institution’s EAP: Steps for HR Pros to Increase Awareness and Accessibility (The Higher Ed Workplace Blog)

HEERF Funds Can Be Used to Support Mental Health Resources (The Higher Ed Workplace Blog)

Mental Health Month Focus: Higher Ed Campus Culture (The Higher Ed Workplace Blog)