Oklahoma has struggled with suicides and has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. In 2020, its suicide rate ranked sixth in the U.S. with 869 such deaths that year. “When we look at, how do we intercept? How do we intervene? They’re out of the education system. Most of them are also not accessing health care,” says Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas. “It’s the workplace—the workplace is the most cross-cutting system we have to help people who are at very high risk for suicide.”
Spencer-Thomas worked with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to develop a free online training for businesses called, “Are You OK?” The training is focused on helping managers to spot and deal with signs of mental health issues at work.
The suicide rates are highest for some jobs within some of the state’s biggest employers, which are in the oil and gas, agriculture and transportation sectors.
Scott Martin, president of the Norman Chamber of Commerce, says focusing on the workplace makes sense as many people spend a lot of time on the job. “I think we all kind of know if somebody’s having a bad day,” he said. “We all have a chance to be engaged, whether it’s in a supervisory role or the coworker role, in being there for a coworker.”