The importance of talking to your employees about suicide prevention

Although it can be a difficult topic to discuss, suicide affects more people than you think.

The importance of talking to your employees about suicide prevention

Although it can be a difficult topic to discuss, suicide affects more people than you think. Managers can play a vital role in creating a healthy environment where people can share the impact of suicide and seek help if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts.

The good news is that managers don’t have to be qualified counsellors to provide their team with adequate support. From promoting a safe environment, to knowing the best ways to signpost your employees to support services, there are plenty of ways you can help your team.

Naomi Humber, Head of Mental Wellbeing at Bupa UK, shares ways managers can help broach suicide conversation with their teams. 

The impact of suicide in the workplace

There is still considerable stigma around talking about suicide. People fear talking about it, but we need to. It’s important to recognise the warning signs and know what to do in a mental health emergency. By taking the right action and directing people to support, suicide can be prevented. 

One in five of us are believed to have suicidal thoughts at some point in our lives, so it’s worth equipping yourself with basic skills to support anyone who may be struggling – both in and out of work.

The warning signs

Research shows that around every nine in ten people who commit suicide have had a mental health problem around the time of their death – sometimes this will have been formally diagnosed, other times it won’t. Other times it can happen without any warning signs. 

Possible warning signs to look out for in a person include: 

  • Expresses thoughts or feelings about wanting to end their life, or talks about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Expresses feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, or low self-esteem
  • Appears withdrawn, work performance reduces or finds it difficult to complete tasks
  • Changes their behaviour, such as becoming restless, irritable, impulsive, reckless, or aggressive
  • Has previously shown suicidal behaviours or has self-harmed
  • Suffers from alcohol or other substance abuse
  • Is going through a challenging time, such as bereavement, family breakdown, job, or financial hardship 
  • Under work-related pressure, causing mental health issues, or intensifying an existing condition

Six steps to help reduce the risk of suicide in your workplace

Don’t be afraid to raise awareness

Raising awareness of suicide and the support that’s available helps to remove the stigma which is a huge part of the reason suicide remains a leading cause of death in the UK.

If your business holds regular team catch-up meetings, this provides an ideal opportunity to invite anyone to share anything happening in their lives, both positive and negative feelings and experiences. Regular one-to-one settings can be an opportunity to start a conversation as the employee could feel at ease.

Brush up on risk factors

It’s important to be mindful of people who might be feeling vulnerable, look out for changes in a person’s behaviour, such as them becoming quieter, withdrawn, defensive, tearful, forgetful or error prone. Talk to them openly make sure they are aware of any support services they can turn to, inside or outside of the workplace. 

Manage the risk

Be aware of stresses caused by work and non-work factors and try to help people through these by being flexible. For example, allow your team time for counselling, medical appointments or attending support groups. 

Inclusive and compassionate culture

Address any root causes of discrimination, bullying and harassment by creating an inclusive and compassionate culture. Building positive relationships can enhance mental health wellbeing in the workplace.

Educate your team

Provide mental health and suicide training with ongoing guidance for managers and wellbeing champions. This should include a competency-based approach so they can confidently show empathy and compassion.

Share resources for wellbeing support

If someone feels that the intensity of their feelings is affecting their daily lives, or experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are many free helplines and support services that specialise in mental health, like Samaritans, Mind or seek support from their GP. 

It’s also useful to provide further work-based support services for your workforce, including Employee Assistance Programmes, occupational health services and employee health assessments

Naomi Humber
Naomi Humber

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