It’s World Suicide Prevention Day, and we have spoken to various wellbeing experts on what employers can do to support the mental health of employees, especially in dealing with this sensitive topic. 

There is an underlying issue when it comes to how businesses tackle their employees’ mental health.

They either completely ignore or dismiss the signs of deteriorating mental health, leading to a preventable suicide…or they do notice the signs and try to help, but their efforts only alienate the affected party further.

This World Suicide Prevention day, we aim to uncover what these signs are, how people from all levels within the business can help without causing further distress, and just how important it is to foster the ultimate safe space for each employee. 

World Suicide Prevention Day takes place this year on Friday, 10 September 2021 and is hosted by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP).

The global theme for WSPD this year is ‘Creating Hope Through Action’ and is a reminder that there is an alternative to suicide and aims to inspire confidence and awareness in all of us; that our actions, no matter how big or small, may provide hope to those who are struggling.

Suicide in the UK

There were 5,691 suicides in England and Wales in 2019, that is 321 more compared to 2018. This is three times higher than those who die on British roads. 

Specifically, women in media have found to be 69% above the average suicide risk and men in construction are shown to be three times more likely to commit suicide than the national average. 

Is this a business issue?

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Publlic Health England has stated that the workplace has a vital role in keeping these numbers down. 

“People who die from suicide are usually not in contact with health services, and often push through in silence as their ability to cope deteriorates. With more than two-thirds of adults in employment, the workplace offers an opportunity to reach people who need extra support.”

Not only do employers have a moral responsibility to keep these numbers down, but also a legal one.

See the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 for example. This act imposes a general duty on all employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of employees, with additional duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, including making risk assessments. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) emphasises that employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it.

From a survey by the mental health activist Chris Frederick, he found that 56% of workers believed that frontline supervisors are the ones responsible for suicide prevention in the workplace. 

The staff are looking at their leaders for help. This is why it is so important that you understand just how much positive impact managers can have on their employees and learn how to effectively fulfill this responsibility. 

What can businesses do?

Signs co-workers should look out for:

  • 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.

Particular attention should be paid to people who are losing their job.

What to do if you’re worried about a colleague:

  • Express empathy and concern, encourage them to talk, and listen without judgment.
  • Ask if there is anyone they would like to call or have called.
  • Encourage them to reach out to health or counselling services inside the company, if available, or otherwise outside the organization, and offer to call or go there together.
  • If your colleague has attempted to or indicates that they are about to intentionally harm themselves, remove access to means and do not leave them alone. Seek immediate support from staff health services, if available, or health services outside of the company.

What can you do if you’re an employer or manager specifically:

  • 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 company 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. If you are struggling with these issues, consider the following:

  • Speak to a friend, family member or someone you trust
  • Call the Samaritans 24-hour support service on 116 123
  • Contact NHS 111
  • Make an urgent appointment to see your GP
  • Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department and talk to the crisis team there.