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10 September 2021 is World Suicide Prevention Day, an event intended to raise awareness about one of the ultimate human costs – the loss of life through suicide.

Did you know that approximately 6,000 people commit suicide in any one year in the UK? This tragic figure has ripple effects that are felt across families, communities and workplaces alike. With regards to the latter, colleagues are often left to deal with the impacts of trauma, grief and shifts in work relationships.

What’s more, the pandemic has led to an increase in work-related suicide, with factors such as work stress, anxiety, job insecurity and work/life balance influencing the decisions employees make. Even prior to the pandemic, around 15% of employees were found to have symptoms of an existing mental health condition.[1] This reality has been exacerbated by widespread disruption to the economy, workplaces and people’s lives.

Employers can play a critical role in addressing suicide in the workforce and helping to protect employees from contributing factors such as stress, workload, anxiety, isolation and burnout.

Employers should also lead the way in breaking stigmas about mental health and ensuring that employees have access to appropriate support should they need it. Tackling stigmas and creating support through the provision of relevant training and education should form part of any organisation’s long-term employee health and wellbeing strategy.

This World Suicide Prevention Day, we encourage employers across the UK to follow these 5 simple steps for creating a more positive and supportive environment for employees.
1

Understand mental health factors

Employers have a responsibility to understand the various factors that contribute to poor mental health in the workplace. This is especially imperative given the context of the pandemic, which has resulted in drastic changes to people’s working lives.

With over half of the UK’s workforce having transitioned to home or flexible working, and with hybrid or “staggered” work models on the rise, employees are being forced to confront a range of new problems. These include stress, anxiety, isolation, poor work/life balance and lack of access to support from managers and colleagues.

In turn, employers should be equipped to identify the signs of poor mental health. Some common signs of suicide ideation may include sudden changes in an employee’s personality, poor job performance, drop in productivity, disengagement, lack of interest and chronic absenteeism. These signs are neither definitive nor exhaustive – they are factors that may be indicative of deeper underlying issues.

2

Provide relevant training

Employers should ensure that managers and staff receive relevant training and education about mental health as part of their organisation’s wider employee health and wellbeing strategy. Line manager training should be provided for managers to ensure they are equipped to support employees who are experiencing difficulties.

Mental Health First Aid training and Wellbeing Champion training can be provided for both managers and staff. An online Mental Health First Aid course trains delegates within your business to offer first-line support to colleagues who are experiencing a mental health problem. Wellbeing Champion teams are likewise delegates who are trained to encourage conversation about mental health, provide support and assist with driving your organisation’s wider employee health and wellbeing strategy.

In addition to training, employers can provide ongoing education to staff by implementing a health and wellbeing promotion campaign. This may include monthly webinars delivered by health professionals and/or the provision of regular health and wellbeing newsletters and other relevant resources.

3

Take all threats seriously

No suicide threat or attempt should be taken lightly or dismissed. Studies have found that people who talk about suicide openly or threaten to complete suicide are up to 30 times more likely to carry the act out to completion. Furthermore, almost half of those who completed suicide had previously attempted or spoken about it.

Remember that suicide threats are frequently cries for help. It is important for employers, managers and colleagues to listen to their peers compassionately and non-judgmentally. Your aim should be to create a supportive work environment in which employees are encouraged to speak openly in the absence of stigmas.

If you suspect that a colleague is having suicidal thoughts, reach out to them and be willing to listen. Appropriate training will ensure that you know what further professional support to refer your peers to.

4

Support colleagues

Suicide does not only affect a person’s immediate friends and family. To the contrary, it affects everyone in that person’s life, including their colleagues and the workplace in general. Suicide can have a particularly devastating effect on team morale, as colleagues are forced to work through trauma and grief.

Your employee health and wellbeing strategy should include plans for how your organisation will cope with the ripple effects of suicide in the workforce. Managers can play a leading role in supporting teams and helping colleagues to work through trauma and grief.

Employers may also want to bring in a mental health professional or counsellor to help colleagues process their loss as a group, answer any questions, and provide advice for self-care during this difficult time.

5

Know your crisis contacts

Finally, make sure that managers and staff know who to reach out to for support in the case of an emergency. Some relevant crisis contacts include:

  • Samaritans – 116 123 (free to call and available 24hrs for emotional support)
  • Use the Shout crisis text line – text SHOUT to 85258
  • Emergencies – call 999 or head to your local A&E department
  • General assistance – call NHS 111
  • Contact your GP to request an emergency appointment

Thrive4Life is at your side in helping businesses safeguard the health and wellbeing of their employees

Our training services include Line Manager Training, Wellbeing Champion Training and Mental Health First Aid. We can help your business with putting together a health and wellbeing promotion campaign. Our promotional services include educational webinars delivered by health and wellbeing experts, as well as health and wellbeing newsletters and other digital content.

References

[1] Thriving at Work: The Stevenson/Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employers, October 2017, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/658145/thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review.pdf

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