The focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day is on suicide prevention. Suicide can be an uncomfortable issue to address – but it is a vital that we raise awareness about it in the workplace. According to the World Health Organization, someone loses their life to suicide every 40 seconds. In September, the Office for National Statistics released some worrying figures for the UK, showing 11.2 suicide deaths per 100,000 population in 2018, a significantly higher rate than for 2017 and the first increase since 2013. The UK male suicide rate is higher at 17.2 deaths per 100,000 compared with 5.4 deaths per 100,000 for women. The suicide rate among young people in particular has increased in recent years.
As the Samaritans make clear, ‘suicide is not inevitable, it’s preventable’. In response to the ONS figures the charity is calling for it to be treated as a serious public health issue. As they point out, there is still no ‘comprehensive, cross-departmental government workplan that prioritises clear actions on how to reach the two-thirds of people who die by suicide who are not in touch with mental health services.’
Focus on prevention
Mental health is one of the most important issues that employers also need to address. Our 2019 annual Health and well-being at work report, in partnership with Simplyhealth, found that nearly three-fifths of organisations have seen an increase in the number of reported common mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, among employees in the last 12 months. An increasing proportion of organisations include mental ill health among their main causes of short- and long-term absence, with mental ill health the main cause of long-term absence. These findings show that the main risks to people’s health at work are psychological.
Prevention should be a core element of an employer’s health and well-being framework. Organisations should strive to foster an environment where people can talk about mental health, including suicide, without fear or stigma. Employees need to know how they can access specialist support such as counselling, occupational health services or external charities and helplines such as the Samaritans, and line managers need to be able to spot the early warning signs if someone seems distressed or is not behaving typically. It’s also important that employers carry out stress risk assessments to help prevent the main workplace risks to people’s psychological health.
Money worries can contribute directly to employee mental stress, and the financially stressed are more likely to suffer conditions such as alcohol and drug abuse. A quarter of people taking part in our 2019 survey believe that poor financial well-being is a significant cause of employee stress. And yet over a third disagree that employees in their organisation demonstrate the knowledge and skills to make the right reward and benefit choices to meet their financial needs, and financial well-being is the most neglected area of most employers’ health and well-being strategy. The CIPD has a range of useful reports and guides to support organisations wanting to improve their employees’ financial well-being.
A holistic approach to help prevent suicide
Organisations should incorporate suicide prevention strategies as part of their health and well-being framework but also think about how it relates to their wider people management policies and practices. This article in People Management relates the devastating story of how one person took his life after being suspended from work, showing how important it is to ensure that disciplinary processes safeguard people’s health and welfare as a priority at every stage. The organisation should act with compassion as part of a person-centred approach, whatever the circumstances, and ensure that there is support available where needed. Managers who are carrying out formal processes should also ensure that the dignity of the individual is respected at all times.
Suicide prevention needs urgent attention in the workplace, and there are practical strategies that employers can put in place to help reduce the risk of such tragic loss of life. Everyone at work has a role to play in understanding the importance of suicide and helping to build an environment where people feel able to talk about how they feel and seek help if they need it.
You can call the Samaritans free from any phone, at any time, on 116 123. Or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to one of the charity’s trained volunteers face to face. Business in the Community have partnered with Public Health England and the Samaritans to produce this free suicide prevention toolkit for organisations.
There are also a number of free resources available to help organisations develop a mental health framework including:
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