Suicide rates in America have been increasing since 1999. It has become the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and the number of deaths by suicide in America now overshadows those caused by auto accidents. In 2018, 1.4 million people attempted suicide and over 48,000 were successful.

The CDC suggests that “connectedness” is one of the best ways to prevent suicide. The CDC’s Strategic Direction for the Prevention of Suicidal Behavior states, “the number and quality of social ties people have can directly influence their access to social support,” and “connectedness between persons reduces risk of suicidal behavior.”

While several causes can lead to suicide, lack of connectedness and feeling that no one notices or cares what they are going through is a common thread many suicide survivors share.

True connectedness is difficult to come by, despite the fact that our society is more “connected” now than ever. Most of us spend the majority of our workday among colleagues. These relationships are formed out of necessity but can become bedrocks of solidarity when personal lives become difficult.

Connectedness enhances the work environment

People aren’t the only ones who benefit from genuine relationships in the workplace. According to the National Business Research Institute, employees who had a best friend at work were seven times more likely to be engaged at work than those who didn’t. Positive peer relationships enhance job satisfaction, reduce employee turnover, and increase productivity.

Encouraging connection

Regardless of your position in the company, you can encourage connection by going out of your way to make eye contact, smile, and greet coworkers. Take a few moments to chat over coffee instead of rushing right back to work. Try to remember important events in coworker’s lives, and ask them how their vacation went or how their sick parent is recovering. These small steps can open doors to communication, and simply being available and open to talking with others may encourage them to open up to you.

Challenges caused by working remotely

Though many are working from home currently, maintaining work relationships is an important part of ensuring connectedness. Where you may have enjoyed conversations with a colleague over lunch or in passing in the hallway, finding those times to connect from home can be difficult.

Some workplaces have found success in having channels of communication open for non-business interaction, encouraging coworkers to discuss their lives and anything else that would be discussed under “normal” circumstances. Other workplaces have built non-work time into their schedules by creating virtual morning coffee or evening happy hours for employees. More ideas include offering virtual trivia games, group video chats which include members of the family who are also at home, and virtual yoga classes to encourage physical as well as mental wellness.

Connecting with coworkers improves mental health, improves productivity, and could be part of the key to reducing suicide rates in America. While it may seem like one more thing to add to a plate that is already full, making the time to connect with coworkers makes a big difference.

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Brynn Mahnke is a freelance writer specializing in creating articles while the rest of the world is sleeping. In her real life she is a small business owner, a mother of seven and a mediocre distance runner who enjoys collecting obscure facts about anything. Get in touch with her at brynn.mahnke@gmail.com.