Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

A Single Question: Suicide Preventable, Mental Health Experts Say

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

A Single Question: Suicide Preventable, Mental Health Experts Say

Article excerpt

TULSA - A new staff training program promises to help reduce one of the most traumatic experiences a business can endure, worker suicide. But few companies have jumped on the bandwagon.

Since Oklahoma launched Working Minds: Suicide Prevention in the Workplace in January, only one person has received training. It is available through seven state agencies, said Savannah Kalman, prevention program manager with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

That slow takeoff may underscore an age-old stigma many people place on mental illnesses, said department Commissioner Terri White. It may also reflect ignorance about the size of the problem.

Oklahoma ranks eighth in the nation for suicide, White said, with 24.9 people out of every 100,000 deciding to kill themselves, almost twice the nation's 12.7 average. White said more Oklahomans die by suicide each year than from car crashes.

"Most often it doesn't happen in the workplace, but workplaces are affected every single year," she said. "People struggle with the questions of should they have done something or what could they have done."

A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study earlier this year ranked the Sooner State second in mental illness cases, with 700,000 to 950,000 people reporting some instance of disease or addiction.

Translated to Oklahoma's workforce, White said about 85 percent struggle with alcohol addiction, 75 percent with drug abuse.

"There are more people working for employers in Oklahoma dealing with mental health issues than people working with employers that are dealing with heart disease, diabetes, or have a stroke," she said. "Mental health issues are more prevalent than all of those diseases."

This places $600 million in additional annual costs on the state economy due to lower productivity and absenteeism, White said, citing a 2005 University of Oklahoma study.

Worker suicide compounds that with something more bitter than lost experience. …

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