Operator: Lebanon Police and Fire, where’s your emergency?
Caller: Hi, I’m at 500 Duke Drive in Lebanon, so it’s the Amazon building. I’ve got an associate threatening suicide, she has very specific plans and has shown scratches more than anything on her arms but she’s trying to leave the building. She needs medical help, we can’t keep her here.
Operator: Police dispatch
Caller: Yes, hi, I wanted to see if we could get an officer out to the Amazon facility. I have an associate who had written a suicide letter to her children that was discovered on her today.
Caller: Hey this is Chris, loss prevention Amazon, how you doing?
Operator: Good how are you?
Caller: Not too bad, I need EMS to start our way please. I have a suicidal employee in one of our offices, he attempted to cut himself three or four times tonight. And he is willing to go with EMS.
Operator: OK, what did he attempt to cut himself with?
Caller: One of our safety box cutters.
Dozens and dozens of times over five years, calls were made from Amazon warehouses to 911 dispatchers about men and women on the brink.
There was the suicidal employee in Hebron, Kentucky, who police said “is pregnant and threatening the baby” in December 2016. The 22-year-old woman in Joliet, Illinois, who said she wanted to “stab herself in the stomach” that same month. And the young man who threatened to “jump from [the] second floor” of the warehouse in Chester, Virginia, in January 2015.
Between October 2013 and October 2018, emergency workers were summoned to Amazon warehouses at least 189 times for suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health episodes, according to 911 call logs, ambulance and police reports reviewed and analyzed by The Daily Beast.
The reports came from 46 warehouses in 17 states—roughly a quarter of the sorting and fulfillment centers that comprise the company’s U.S. network. Jurisdictions for other Amazon warehouses either did not have any suicide reports or declined requests for similar logs.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Amazon, founded by the now-richest man in the world, has long faced criticism about working conditions at its warehouses: the high-pressure pace, the stultifying boredom, the timed bathroom breaks, and the digital surveillance that monitors performance.
The 911 calls and police reports collected through open record requests are not evidence that Amazon staffers experience suicidal episodes more often than other American workers, in or out of a warehouse—but they do offer a visceral, real-time glimpse of employees on the edge.
In Jacksonville, Florida, in December 2017, an older woman said “she was going to go home and kill herself” because she was being fired, according to a sheriff’s report. A supervisor saw her crying and hitting her head against a wall a couple times because she was being dismissed, and “did not have anything to live for.” She told a sheriff’s officer that she planned to cut her wrist with a butter knife, and previously had suicidal thoughts.
In June 2018, police officers were sent to a warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota, to help with a suicidal employee. The officers found the woman crying in the first aid office where she admitted that she wanted to kill herself, the police report says. “She mentioned wanting to use box cutters,” police wrote.
At a warehouse in Etna, Ohio, in July 2018, a young man said, “With all the demands his employer has placed on him and things he’s dealing with in life [sic] is becoming too much and considering hurting himself,” a sheriff’s report says. The worker has been “with Amazon for over a year and is frustrated with his employment because he felt he was lied to by Amazon at his orientation. He keeps saying the company told him they valued his employment and would be treated as if he mattered and not just a number,” the report adds.
“It’s this isolating colony of hell where people having breakdowns is a regular occurrence,” said Jace Crouch, a former employee at a warehouse in Lakeland, Florida, who had an emotional crisis on the job. It’s “mentally taxing to do the same task super fast for 10-hour shifts, four or five days a week.”
Some employees told The Daily Beast that they struggled with mental health issues before they began working for Amazon. But they believed the exacting work environment made them worse. And in some cases, after they were put on leave, they said they struggled to obtain promised compensation, received counseling they found insufficient or unaffordable, or were even fired.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Amazon said it values the health of its employees and suggested that the number of calls is an “overgeneralization” that “doesn’t take into account the total of our associate population, hours worked, or our growing network.”
“The physical and mental well-being of our associates is our top priority, and we are proud of both our efforts and overall success in this area,” the statement said.
“We provide comprehensive medical care starting on day one so employees have access to the care when they need it most, 24-hour a day free and confidential counseling services, and various leave and medical accommodation options covering both mental and physical health concerns.”
“Crack the whip, crack the whip”
The bins came one after another.
It was Nick Veasley’s job to count the items in each one and check the tally against a computer screen to make sure it matched Amazon’s inventory. As soon as he was done, a robot would place another bin in front him—and that’s how it went all night at the warehouse in Etna, Ohio.