How can employers help prevent suicide?

Man at the table, with his hands in his head looking worried and hopeless

800,000 people die worldwide by suicide every year, and the suicide rates among men are, on average, 3.5 times higher than women. Financial constraints, redundancies, anxiety caused by uncertainty and concerns have led to an increase on suicide rates during the pandemic. Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy, but this sad reality doesn’t need to happen. Did you know that suicide is preventable? What can employers do to prevent suicide?

World Suicide Prevention Day

10th September is World Suicide Prevention Day and this year’s theme is ‘Creating Hope Through Action’. This is a reminder that our actions, no matter how big or small, provide hope to those who are struggling. There is alternative to suicide. Small talk can save lives and create a sense of connection. We can give someone hope by reaching out and showing them that we care. When someone is contemplating suicide, there may be warning signs in their words and actions. These warning signs could be hopelessness, uncontrolled anger, acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, feeling trapped like there’s no way out, increased alcohol or drug use, withdrawing from friends, anxiety, unable to sleep or sleeping too much and dramatic mood changes. Knowing how to spot the warning signs of poor mental health, asking openly if the person is feeling suicidal and being ready to listen without giving any solution, can make a huge difference.

Employers have a crucial role to play in suicide prevention. This September, you can ask your employees to share what makes them feel hopeful when they’re going through a difficult time. This could be going for a walk along the seafront or out for a coffee with a mate. You can encourage your staff to find the time to reach out to colleagues, friends and family more often by promoting this leaflet. Work colleagues, line managers and team leaders can provide an important social and emotional support network. No practical solutions needed. Simply making the time and space to listen to someone about their experiences of distress or suicidal thoughts can alleviate suffering. Have a look here for some other resources you can use to raise awareness of suicide prevention in your workplace.

Warning Signs Campaign

Around World Suicide Prevention Day, it’s also a good opportunity to promote the Warning Signs Campaign in your workplace and help your employees at risk of or affected by suicide. This is a suicide prevention campaign aimed at men and managed by the Sussex Health and Care Partnership, but promoting it widely to your workforce can have a positive impact. Their website provides specific advice and links to specialist support in East Sussex to those in crisis or for colleagues, friends and family concerned about someone they know.

Suicide can be a difficult topic to talk about. Stigma is a major barrier. But as we recover from the pandemic and social distancing, it’s even more important to discuss mental health issues openly and look out for each other. As an employer, you can help break down stigma by changing the narrative around suicide in your organisation. You can promote deeper understanding of the topic and upskill your staff to handle those challenging conversations with a free suicide prevention training, such as the Zero Suicide Alliance e-learning.

You can also encourage staff with lived experience of suicide or significant emotional distress to share their stories. This could be suicidal thoughts, attempts or death of a loved one. Personal stories can inspire hope in others that they are not alone, and they can move through crisis and recover. It’s a powerful way to create a more supportive organisational culture, where employees feel confident to reach out to support a colleague or to seek help for themselves.

Suicide Prevention Toolkit   

Business in the Community have created a useful toolkit to help employers reduce the risk of suicide by embedding suicide prevention strategies in the organisation’s wellbeing policies. In summary, key elements of an effective suicide prevention strategy are:

  1. Create a work environment that values wellbeing and promotes a sense of belonging and respect with open conversations about mental health. This can be achieved by encouraging employees to share their stories and reach out to support colleagues in distress.
  2. Provide mental health and suicide awareness training to key members of staff. A good way to start is with the Zero Suicide Alliance free e-learning.
  3. Good internal communications to make sure employees know what support is available and how to access them. This can include signposting to local support services or providing a free Employee Assistance Programme such as Able Futures. Consider including financial wellbeing support such as Step Change, and a 24/7 helpline like the Samaritans available on 116 123, or the Sussex Mental Healthline team, available on 0800 0309 500.

Suicide Bereavement Support

If you have been affected by a suicide or possible suicide, there is free help available across Sussex, however soon or long after a death. You can get support by calling 07376616628 or emailing sussexbereavedbysuicide@cruse.org.uk

Remember that whatever you do to mark World Suicide Prevention Day can provide hope to someone struggling emotionally and have a positive impact. Please share with us what you are planning to do this September to support suicide prevention in your workplace by emailing healthy.workplace@eastsussex.gov.uk