With suicide rates on the increase, employers have a vital role to play when it comes to identifying and supporting those at risk before it’s too late.

Suicide is a devastating and increasing problem, with suicide rates for both men and women at their highest level for two decades. Fifteen people end their life every day.

The real tragedy is that suicide can be regarded as a lasting solution to temporary feelings of despair, when in reality people can be helped to recover once the right support is given. Unfortunately, suicide remains a highly awkward topic of conversation, meaning it’s often an easier option for people who are feeling desperate than to seek help.

With suicide prevention a focus in the run up to this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day (10th September), PAM Wellbeing’s clinical director, Colin Grange, looks at the three ways to identify and support those at risk. Including the vital role that managers have to play.

Three ways employers can help to prevent suicide

1. Be aware of risk factors

Men are three times as likely to commit suicide than women, with men aged 45-49 most at risk. However, suicide rates amongst younger people, especially women aged less than 25 years old, are also increasing. People with pre-existing mental health conditions, such as depression, or who have attempted suicide before, are also at risk.

Those who feel lonely and isolated are also at heightened risk, as they often lack the friendship, family and other support networks needed to open up about their feelings and get reassurance that even though they feel like this now, it won’t always be the case. However, it’s also important to bear in mind that many people feeling like this will hide their feelings.

Stressful life events, such as a bereavement, relationship break-up or divorce, getting into debt or being made redundant, can also put people at risk. So it’s important to be mindful of people who might be feeling vulnerable and ensure they’re aware of any support services they can turn to, be this access to professional counsellors, via the company’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), OH department, a charity helpline or their GP.

2. Develop managers to help

In the post-pandemic world, where people feel more isolated than ever, and many are working from home, managers have a vital role to play when it comes to staying connected to their teams and asking them individually how they’re feeling. This is especially important if they can see changes in the person’s behaviour, such as them becoming quieter and more withdrawn, defensive, tearful, forgetful or error-prone.

Managers have a duty of care to understand if anyone who seems particularly low in mood or overwhelmed is at risk, so it’s okay to sensitively ask: “Are you feeling suicidal or have you had feelings of hurting yourself?” Far from putting the idea to do this into someone’s head, asking this question is essential to understanding if the person is at risk, because if they say yes, the manager can then take steps to direct them towards support.

For managers to feel comfortable doing this, it’s essential that they know how and where to direct employees to any support services in place. Otherwise the manager might feel tempted to advise or counsel the employees, when this would be inappropriate and could lead to the manager feeling personally responsible for the individual. Managers should also be encouraged to consider contacting the support services on behalf of the employee, as often it’s easier for someone to accept help than to proactively seek this.

3. Create a caring culture

Managers should then continue to check-in with anyone who has sought help, to see if this is actually helping and if there’s anything else they can do to help. Steps might include flexing their hours to help the individual deal with the underlying issue that led to their depression or suicidal feelings in the first place. For example, by shifting their hours so they can meet their children a few days a week from school after a relationship breakdown. Time off could also be given to meet with a counsellor within working hours.

At the same time, many of the opportunities used to enjoy for connecting with each other through work, in the coffee area, at lunch or while passing people in the corridor, have gone. So it’s also important to think about how to re-engineer those social interactions. Schedule a weekly meeting with no agenda, for people to just chat and socialise with each other the way they might during a break or at lunchtime in the workplace. Or by arranging an informal gathering, even if people are no longer based in the office full-time.

Employers can also use World Suicide Prevention Day to tell employees that they recognise that the past year has been difficult and that if anyone is struggling, there is support in place to help them feel better, detailing how to get in touch. We’ve also created a suicide prevention animation, which you can share with managers. To help raise awareness of the extent of the problem and what they can do to help.

Free suicide prevention video

For this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day (10th September) we have created an awareness video for you to share with managers. It explains the warning signs to look out for and how to help.

See and share the video on our YouTube channel here

PAM Wellbeing Suicide Prevention Services

PAM Assist – our Employee Assistance Programme is staffed by qualified counsellors and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to give employees immediate professional support. We have saved numerous lives over the past year and our counsellors are also there to support and coach managers on supporting vulnerable individuals.

Psychological First Aid Training – we can train people within your organisation to understand, recognise and act on the warning signs emitted by people entering into distress. As well as act as mental health champions to promote the support services in place and create a culture where employees feel safe asking for support when needed.

Managing Mental Health Training – give managers the confidence to talk to employees about their feelings and the empathetic listening skills needed to response. Without feeling like they have to take on the employee’s problems or offer advice. Including training on how to raise a management referral for a counsellor to contact the employee direct.

To discuss your mental health and suicide prevention needs, please email info@pamwellbeing.co.uk to set up a free consultation with someone from our psychological services team.