World Suicide Prevention Day – How Can Workplaces Help?

World Suicide Prevention Day - Nathan Salmon's blog

In this blog, Nathan Salmon, Senior Project Manager at EW Group and Challenge Consultancy, discusses suicide prevention and how employers and leaders can support the wellbeing of their employees.

Suicide is a word that many of us try to avoid. For most, it is a difficult subject that we are unsure how to approach and struggle to know what to say if it is raised. It is a sensitive topic which can invoke a strong emotional response. Often the subject of suicide can make us feel uneasy, and we may be worried that we might say the wrong thing or not know the answer, but it is important to remember that someone is looking for support and often simply someone to listen.

Suicide prevention in the workplace

Despite it being a challenging subject, suicide affects many of us. In fact, 1 in 5 of us will have suicidal thoughts during our lifetime and 1 in 100 deaths worldwide are related to suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of death of men under 50. It not only impacts the individual, but also has a profound impact on those around them. It is vital we learn to discuss mental health and suicide openly and educate ourselves. As employers, it can be hard to know how to handle this with many managers feeling unprepared on how to respond to the subject, but there are a number of things you can do to help.

Many of us spend the majority of our week at work, so there is huge potential for the workplace to provide support for the mental health of its staff. 80% of all people who die by suicide are of working age, so the workplace is an ideal place for creating a system for prevention and intervention. Some industries are even at a greater risk of suicide with rates above the national average, such as male-dominated industries (e.g. construction and manufacturing or media, sport, and creative industries). So, the need becomes even more important.

Many things can trigger suicidal thoughts including depression, anxiety, change (no matter how small), disciplinary action, job insecurity, pre-existing conditions, and more. As an employer, you can help reduce any work-related factors such as stress or bullying.

Spotting the signs

It is important to be aware of the signs that someone may be suicidal. Some employees may raise that they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Many won’t speak directly about it but there may be signs we can look out for.

Indicators of poor mental health may include mood changes, reducing social interaction or withdrawal, changes to their routine, low energy, neglecting themselves, difficulty sleeping or eating, talking about suicide in a vague/joking way, acting recklessly, saying goodbye, and giving away possessions. If someone is showing signs it’s important to know what to do.

What can employers do to support suicide prevention?

There are a number of steps leaders and employers can take to help support suicide prevention and mental health in the workplace.

  • Leaders should champion why suicide prevention matters and the importance of talking about mental health by modelling openness and confidence in discussing the topic and that it’s safe to do so. Create a culture of psychological safety by raising awareness about mental health to reduce stigma while encouraging help-seeking behaviour and active listening.
  • Promote self-care and for everyone to look after their mental health. This includes taking regular breaks, getting outside, exercising, taking a bath, reading a book, talking with a friend, or doing something that relaxes you.
  • Provide peer support opportunities such as buddying and team meetings with a social aspect
  • Ask those you manage how you can support them, especially if they have pre-existing mental health conditions. Read more about how managers can support mental health.
  • Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) provide an independent and confidential support system within the workplace that employees can go to when they need to talk to someone and be signposted to the appropriate resources.
  • Upskill managers and employees through training events such as How to Talk About Suicide Training, Mental Health Awareness Training, Resilience Training, Managing Suicidal Conversations, Supporting Suicidal Friends, Workplace Wellbeing for all staff or for managers, and more.
  • Signpost to resources and help such as charities that offer support (we provide some useful links later in this article) and read books on workplace wellbeing and mental health support.
  • Support workers after an incident by providing opportunities to seek help (via your EAP, MHFAs, counselling) and make sure other employees aren’t feeling similarly or under the same pressure.
  • Keep in touch with home workers who may feel isolated. In this blog we provide some tips on great working from home habits to promote to staff.

Developing policies and procedures to support suicide prevention

Robust policies and procedures to support your staff are crucial. Here are 5 tips for creating inclusive policies which support suicide prevention in the workplace:

  1. Build a strong workplace mental health strategy which specifically addresses suicide aiming to promote good mental health, and build confidence and competence to respond to an incident and support colleagues that have been impacted.
  2. Develop policies and procedures on how to support someone at risk of suicide or those bereaved by suicide, including guidance for managers on the process to follow when a suicide risk is identified.
  3. Flexible Working Hours help reduce stress caused by work which in turn can help promote good mental health. It also allows employees time for appointments including counselling, GP appointments, CBT courses etc. Read more about flexible working and how it can be implemented effectively.
  4. Introduce an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which provides a selection of online, phone, and sometimes in-person services to your employees including personal, financial and mental health support.
  5. Develop a return-to-work plan and make adjustments for those who have taken time off for their mental health or raised a mental health concern.

World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day is on the 10th September each year. The theme for 2022 is “Creating Hope Through Action”. This initiative encourages employers to help prevent suicide by taking action within their workplace.

The day provides an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and encourage staff to talk openly about the subject of suicide. You can mark the day by hosting some training, having a lunch and learn session, inviting in a guest speaker, providing a space for open discussion around mental health, launching your EAP, or as simple an action as acknowledging the day and signposting to your own internal and external resources. Even the smallest action could have the biggest impact.

Resources for suicide prevention:

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