What happens when a colleague reveals they feel suicidal?

Suicide is a major public health issue and can be an issue for organisations. Each year in England alone, nearly 500 people from all walks of life die as a result of suicide and many more experience suicidal thoughts. Suicide rates tend to be higher in the spring and summer months. Rates are also higher for men than for women. Organisations can play a key role in its prevention.

Suicide is preventable, yet often difficult to talk about. It is a myth that if someone talks about suicide, they are less likely to attempt it. Most people do not want to die, but want to stop the distress that they are currently experiencing. If we can spot the warning signs and take prompt action to support someone, we can prevent it from happening.

Suicide is a difficult subject to talk about. Taking positive and practical steps to support employees is important and can make a real difference in saving lives.

Dr Steve Boorman, Director of Employee Health, Empactis

Notice when someone’s behaviour changes, perhaps they become withdrawn and less engaged in what is going on at work, and ask how they are. Let them know that you have noticed a change. This will help you start the conversation.

Encourage the person to talk:

  • Listen without judgement
  • Be respectful
  • Accept the person’s feelings
  • Try not to give advice
  • Give reassurance that help is available and that their future has other options.

If they disclose suicidal thoughts, ensure that they are not left alone and arrange for someone to be with them whilst you seek help:

  • Ensure that the person does not have ready access to some means to take their own life.
  • Contact their line manager and let them know what is happening. Managers should get involved and carry out their duty of care. Managers should refer them into Occupational Health and make sure that they give the person the contact number for the EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) and encourage them to contact them.
  • Call the organisation’s EAP and seek their advice.
  • Contact a relative with the person’s consent
  • Phone their G.P. and ask for an emergency appointment or for an emergency home visit.
  • If they are at risk of immediate self-harm, call 999 or take them to a hospital Accident & Emergency Department.
  • Make sure if you get support for yourself and don’t underestimate the effect this may have on you.

Business In The Community (BiTC) have produced an excellent toolkit on suicide prevention and postvention for organisations. You can download the toolkits from our Resources page here.

BiTC recommend that employers work to:

  1. Create a work environment that values it’s employees and their families, promotes emotional wellbeing and encourages people to seek help when they need it.
  2. Educate and train employees, particularly line managers, on mental health, including suicide awareness.
  3. Communicate to employees at induction other ongoing opportunities, support that is available around mental wellbeing, such as the EAP (company counselling service).
  4. Create policies, procedures and practical guidance around mental health and someone of the potential causes of poor mental health, particularly those in the workplace (see the HSE 6 Management Standards for Workplace Stress on our Resources page.)
  5. Ensure that your EAP is fit for purpose in dealing with employees who may voice suicidal thoughts.
  6. Communicate useful helplines internally and externally to all employees e.g. Samaritans, domestic abuse, MIND etc.
  7. Develop a plan to respond to suicide attempt or death.

If a death occurs, BiTC recommend that employers:

  1. Encourage mutual support and promote healthy grieving.
  2. Arrange for support group sessions through your EAP.
  3. Make face:face counselling sessions available to employees that are significantly affected.
  4. Give people time off work if needed, but encourage a resumption of daily routines.
  5. If an employee experiences significant distress, refer them to Occupational Health or encourage them to see their G.P.

There are additional resources are available from MIND to support workplace mental health www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-atwork/taking-care-of-your-staff/useful-resources

If you would like to know more about the range of workshops and consultancy on building resilience to change in your organisation, please contact Sara Rawstron
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