Suicide prevention is a complex and sensitive issue and one that employers must approach with care. With the right policies and procedures in place, however, workplaces can be safe environments for employees struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues.
At Great Minds At Work, we specialise in helping employers support those struggling with mental health issues or thoughts of suicide. So we have put together this guide on suicide prevention at work, to help you create a supportive workplace environment for all.
Why is Suicide Prevention Important In the Workplace?
Workplaces are often where we spend a large proportion of our time, so it’s important that they are places where we feel safe and supported. Suicide is a preventable tragedy that takes the lives of too many people each year – in the UK alone, 4912 suicides were registered in 2020. With suicide deaths tragically on the rise, it’s more important than ever for employers to take action on suicide prevention in the workplace.
Public Health England (now the UKHSA) states that a suicide death can also have a profound effect on the colleagues of the person involved, so it’s important to consider these wider impacts of suicide when developing company policies and procedures.
Workplaces can play a vital role in suicide prevention by creating an environment where employees feel comfortable talking about mental health and thoughts of suicide, and by providing support and resources to those who may be struggling with mental health issues or mental illnesses.
Though many workplaces provide adequate support for physical health issues, mental health and invisible illnesses can sometimes be overlooked. This needs to change – mental health should be given the same importance as physical health in the workplace. After all, our mental health affects every aspect of our lives, including our work.
What Role Does An Employer Play in Suicide Prevention?
Employers can create a culture of open communication around mental health, and make sure that employees know where to go for help if they are struggling.
Employers can also provide training for managers and staff on how to identify the signs of someone struggling with their mental health, and how to begin a conversation about mental health.
Additionally, you can make sure that your workplace has access to resources like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which offer confidential counselling and support for employees, each of these we will look at in more depth later in the article.
Human Resources departments should understand suicide risk factors, mental illness warning signs, any potential occupational health hazards, and how to make the appropriate workplace adjustments or referrals to mental health professionals.
What Are the Warning Signs of Suicidal Thoughts?
There is no set list of warning signs that someone is experiencing thoughts of suicide. However, there are some common behaviours and changes in behaviour that may indicate that someone is struggling.
Some warning signs or risk factors that someone may have thoughts of suicide include:
- Talking about thoughts of hurting themselves
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness or being a burden to others
- Increased mental health-related absenteeism or lateness
- Increased signs of alcohol or substance abuse
- Withdrawal from work and social activities.
How To Have a Conversation About Suicide With an Employee
Talking about mental health at work can be positive and beneficial to employees. If you have mental health concerns about an employee and think they may be struggling with thoughts of suicide, it’s important to have a conversation with them. This can be a difficult conversation to have, but there are some steps you can take to make it easier.
When talking about mental health with an employee, it’s important to:
- Find a private place to talk where you will not be interrupted
- Ask the employee how they are feeling and gently express your concern for them
- Listen to what they have to say without judgement
- Reassure them that they are not alone and that help is available
- If the situation is appropriate and they are responding well to your support, ask if they have had any thoughts of hurting themselves or others.
- Encourage them to seek support from a mental health professional with useful resources, or offer some reasonable workplace adjustments to help them cope.
For crisis situations, Suicide First Aid (SFA) can be critical. This involves allowing the employee to talk about their thoughts and feelings, whilst also remaining calm and non-judgemental. It also involves making sure that the employee has a safety plan in place, and signposting them to appropriate support services.
Note: To offer effective Suicide First Aid in the workplace, you need a trained and accredited professional for adequate health and safety. Great Minds At Work offers accredited Suicide First Aid (SFA) training which can be completed online, in person, or as part of a blended learning approach.
Organisational Suicide Prevention Strategies
Create an Open Workplace Culture Around Mental Health
One of the most important things you can do to support employees and prevent suicide in the workplace is to create a culture where mental health is openly discussed. This means normalising the conversation around mental health and actively fighting mental health stigma so that employees feel comfortable talking about their own mental health and seeking help if they are struggling.
You can create a positive workplace culture around mental health in a number of ways, including:
- Encouraging employees to talk about their mental health and making it clear that it is okay to do so.
- Including mental health as part of your organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
- Ensuring your workplace has policies and procedures in place to support employees with mental health issues.
- Providing mental health awareness training for employees and managers.
- Offering regular 1:1s and check-ins with employees.
- Encouraging employees to take regular breaks and encouraging good mental health via a healthy work/life balance.
Identify Employees Potentially At-Risk
Another key part of preventing suicide in the workplace is being able to identify risk factors. This means being aware of the warning signs of suicidal thoughts that we outlined above.
Though it’s key to check in with all employees on their wellbeing and mental health, you should aim not to single out any one employee. Rather, try to create conversations that invite employees to open up about how they are feeling. You could think about incorporating this within your monthly or quarterly One-to-Ones as a mandatory topic of discussion. Or consider implementing a well-being passport for your staff.
Creating a Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Another way to prevent suicide in the workplace is to create a dedicated resource center that employees can turn to for help and support. This might include things like:
A list of external support services, like helplines and counselling services
- Organisational policies on mental health and reasonable adjustments
- Guidance on how to have conversations about suicidal thoughts
- Signs and symptoms of mental ill-health
- Information on how to support a colleague who is struggling.
Offer Suicide First Aid (SFA) Training To Management and Employees
One of the most effective ways to prevent suicide in the workplace is to offer Suicide First Aid (SFA) training to employees and managers. SFA is a type of first aid that can be used to support someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Having employees and managers who are trained in SFA means that there will always be someone available to support a colleague who is struggling. This could make all the difference and keep someone safe in a crisis.
Looking For Professional Suicide Prevention Training?
At Great Minds At Work, suicide prevention is one of our ultimate goals. We do this by supporting those with mental health issues to live better lives by enabling colleagues and employers to support them effectively.