By Shana Palmieri, August 16, 2017

* Shana Palmieri is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a FELTG instructor who specializes in training agency employees and supervisors how to handle behavioral health issues and threats of violence in the federal workplace.

FELTG recently offered its first full-day training on the topic Handling Behavioral Health Issues & Instances of Violence in the Federal Workplace. A portion of the training covered how to react and steps to take if an employee has a psychiatric crisis in the workplace.  Numerous questions came up during and after the training about just exactly how to handle an employee disclosing direct or indirect suicidal threats. I felt it pertinent to offer some clarification and further guidance given that there is not one specific answer, and often the best way to react depends on the circumstances of the specific situation.

An employee directly or indirectly reporting suicidal ideation should always be taken seriously, but it is not always the case that an employee needs to be rushed off urgently to the emergency room for an emergent psychiatric assessment, or forced to take leave pending medical clearance in the instance of reported suicidal ideation.  Each instance should be evaluated independently to determine the best course of action in order ensure the safety of the employee.

Tips & Recommendations

  • Take all threats of suicide seriously.  Do not ignore threats or make assumptions that nothing bad will happen.
  • Supervisors & managers should work in collaboration with Human Resources Staff and EAP to determine the best course of action.
  • If the employee is in imminent danger (actively attempting to harm themselves in the workplace, or reports an imminent plan), call 911 for immediate assistance.
  • If the employee is not in imminent danger, work collaboratively with the employee to provide options for the employee to obtain the needed services (EAP, provide suicide hotline phone number, provide local mobile crisis hotline number, refer to mental health professional).
  • It is a case-by-case decision to determine if the employee will need a medical clearance to return to work.  This should be carefully evaluated based on the circumstances and the severity of the situation. Remember the purpose of an emergency department evaluation is to determine if an individual needs emergent inpatient psychiatric hospitalization, not to determine if the employee can return and complete the duties associated with their employment.
  • Develop an open culture and awareness in your organization to support the mental health of your employees.  Consider developing a mental health awareness program.

Available Resources

Suicide Prevention Resource Center:

The Role of Managers in Preventing Suicide in the Workplace:

The Role of Co-Workers in Preventing Suicide in the Workplace:

Partnership for Workplace Mental Health:

ICU Awareness Campaign:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

County Crisis Hotlines & Services: Check in your county and identify the phone number for the crisis hotline number.  Most counties have a crisis hotline and often a mobile crisis team that can come out in the community to complete a crisis assessment and provide recommendations.

Employee Assistance Program: Ensure employees have easy access and awareness to the employee assistance program.

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