Suicide of Montreal worker with autism under investigation

'We were consoling her almost daily because she found it so hard to go to work'

Suicide of Montreal worker with autism under investigation

Quebec’s workplace safety board and a blue-collar workers' union are launching separate investigations after a Montreal city worker took her own life last month.

Marie-Hélène Henry, 47, committed suicide on Aug. 12, according to a CBC report.

The worker – who was on the autism spectrum – was working at the city’s Botanical Garden and was regularly bullied at work, according to a best friend.

"We were consoling her almost daily because she found it so hard to go to work," said Marie-Claude Piguet.

After four of its workers died by suicide within a span of six months, industrial products and services provider Wajax decided to boost its mental health supports for employees.

‘Help did not come’ for troubled worker

Henry’s father died of cancer in October last year. Despite this, the bullying only got worse over the past few months, according to the CBC report.

Piguet claimed that Henry did seek help to address her workplace situation, but it fell on deaf ears.

“There's about seven pages worth of complaints that she gave to her union representative in order to get help. But help did not come," she said.

Jean-Pierre Lauzon, president of the blue-collar workers' union Syndicat des cols bleus regroupés de Montréal (SCFP 301), said in the CBC report that the union is devastated by Henry’s death.

"We supported her," said Lauzon, citing the union's effort to file psychological harassment complaints with the city's Division du respect de la personne respect – a department that handles such complaints.

"The procedures are always very long in the city of Montreal."

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante expressed support for the investigation into Henry’s death.

"There is an investigation and I think it's the right thing to be done, we will participate in that,” he said in the CBC report.

"And whatever comes out of it, we will take it and act on it.”

Montreal, in June, introduced a new process for reporting discrimination and harassment, while revising its human resources policy. Still, this isn’t enough, as the disciplinary process takes too long, said Gino Clyford Lubérisse, a Montreal blue-collar union delegate, in the report.

"We're asking how much longer we will have to wait," he said. "Who will be held accountable for this?"

Bullying and harassment is a source of many workplace problems, according to a previous report, but here are eight ways to prevent and mitigate such behaviour.

Preventing suicide among workers

There are often tell-tale signs that indicate whether an employer is looking to commit suicide, and employers must pay close attention to these, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). These include:

  • expression of thoughts or feelings about wanting to end their life, or talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • expression of feelings of isolation, loneliness
  • hopelessness or loss of self-esteem, or dwelling on problems
  • withdrawal from colleagues, decrease in work performance or difficulty completing tasks
  • changes in behaviour, such as restlessness, irritability, impulsivity, recklessness or aggression
  • speaking about arranging end-of-life personal affairs such as making a will, or concrete plans for suicide
  • abuse of alcohol or other substances
  • depressed mood or mentioning of previous suicidal behaviour; and/or bullying or harassment.

But there are things that employers and managers can do to prevent a worker from taking their own life, including: 

  • Provide information sessions for your staff on mental health and suicide prevention. Ensure all staff know what resources are available for support, both within the organization and in the local community.
  • Foster a work environment in which colleagues feel comfortable talking about problems that have an impact on their ability to do their job effectively and supporting each other during difficult times.
  • Become familiar with relevant legislation.
  • Identify and reduce work-related stressors which can negatively impact mental health.
  • Design and implement a plan for how to sensitively manage and communicate the suicide or suicide attempt of an employee in a way that minimizes further distress. Measures should include the availability of trained health workers and support services for staff.

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