Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Occupational and Environmental Health

First Advisor

Corinne Peek-Asa


The long-term goal of this research is to reduce the number of deaths by suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of violent death in the United States, and is currently the 10th most common cause of death across all age groups. Suicide prevention efforts have historically been focused on youth/young adults, and the elderly, with less attention on programming for individuals in the working years. Our intention is to generally broaden the understanding of suicide, depression and the workplace, with the hope of improving interventions for this underserved population.

The research activities outlined below were conducted under the auspices of a larger quasi-experiment at the University of Iowa. We first sought to assess the experiences of professional, nonclinical staff identifying and responding to apparently mental health problems in the workplace. We looked at the impact of two exposures on engagement with individuals in crisis: self-reported contact (the number of students or coworkers a participant interacted with each week), and participation in any suicide prevention training/programming over the previous five years. High contact with students was generally associated with a greater capacity for recognizing and responding to depression and potential suicidality. In contrast, the association between high contact with employees and recognition and response was insignificant for four of the six recognition and response behaviors. Participation in any form of suicide prevention training or programming in the previous five years was highly associated with recognizing and responding to depressed or suicidal coworkers and students.

Next, we considered the impact of a personal prior experience with suicide and prior suicide prevention training/programming on four constructs: preparedness to respond to someone in crisis, familiarity with appropriate resources, gatekeeper self-efficacy, and gatekeeper reluctance. Suicide prevention training/programming was significantly associated with higher perception of three constructs: preparedness, familiarity, and self-efficacy. There was no statistical difference in reluctance between previously training participants and participants who had not previously taken suicide prevention training or programming. Individuals who had a personal prior experience with suicide were less reluctant to engage, although the results were not significant. There was an association between individuals who had a personal prior experience with suicide and suicide prevention training/programming, suggesting that individuals with a personal connection to suicide might be more likely to enroll in suicide prevention programming.

Finally, we examined how a suicide prevention training programming impacted the perception of safety culture in the workplace. On the 10 item safety scale, there was a significant difference between the means scores reported by the intervention and control group on 7 of the 10 questions. Individuals who participated in QPR gatekeeper training reported a higher sum safety culture score than individuals who did not participate in the training; the overall model was statistically significant.

This project shows that suicide prevention training/programming of any kind in the workplace can have a persistent, positive training impact on employees by informing and empowering them to act. It suggests that individuals with a personal prior experience with suicide may be more likely to take suicide prevention training, and may be less reluctant to engage with someone in crisis. It also demonstrates that suicide prevention training may have a positive impact on other workplace psychosocial factors, and deserves prioritization in workplace wellness programming.


depression, mental health, occupational health, suicide prevention, total worker health, workplace wellness


x, 85 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 78-85).


Copyright © 2016 Leah Marie Wentworth