The Office for National Statistics reported that 5,583 suicides were registered in England and Wales in 2021. Men are three times more likely to take their own life than women, but women are more likely to make suicide attempts and have suicidal thoughts.
Suicide prevention charity R;pple created a study that found over 21% of employees do not feel comfortable talking about their mental health to their employer. The charity reports that 1.2 million people use the internet each day to search for ways to take their own life.
The case for organisations to take responsibility
Whereas suicide is complex and with no singular cause, Harvard Business Review (HBR) has done extensive research to analyse workplace predictors of suicide. The publication identified ‘social and psychological pain’ as a central cause of suicide-related behaviour. As HBR points out, experiences of social and psychological pain can develop from harmful aspects of work, from burnout, stress, work-family conflict, financial instability, overdemanding job expectations and meaningless work interactions.
Businesses cannot ignore the influence of the workplace on improving or reducing good mental health. It is estimated that the average person spends one-third of their life at work, and the majority of people spend most of their day there, so it is a valuable opportunity to notice behavioural changes that could indicate poor mental health and possible suicide risks.
Responsible employers understand that they have a duty of care to support staff in managing their mental health but also to support colleagues impacted by suicide. This is about collective responsibility – ensuring that your company’s culture is not harming the well-being of your employees. Here are some strategies to help prevent suicide and improve wellbeing in your organisation.
Banish a fear culture
A Samaritan report found job insecurity including zero-hour contracts is a suicide risk factor. Lower-skilled workers tend to have the highest rates of suicide, which researchers believe is due to them being more likely to receive a low wage and have less job stability compared to higher-skilled workers in management positions. Less money infers less control over one’s life circumstances and this uncertainty leads many to fear.
The fear of losing your job can cause stress, worry, a shutdown in communication and a decline in productivity. When we experience fear at work, we ultimately focus on the perceived threat and forget everything else.
If your company is in danger of job risks, provide the information as soon as possible, but ensure processes are fair and that support is available. Tell your staff frequently how much you value them, devise ongoing succession plans and make sure that there are growth opportunities to create stability. Remember also that if you do let go of substantial numbers of staff, those that remain will often feel a kind of survivor’s guilt which can be debilitating and needs attending to.
Be prepared to invest
Investing in mental health shows that you are dedicated to long-term employee care. A 2022 Deloitte report found employers receive a return of £5.30 on average for every £1 they invest in staff mental health.
Annual training helps people to spot the warning signs for when someone is struggling. It can also be beneficial for identifying and providing support for vulnerable employees, as well as training staff, to help colleagues impacted by suicide.
Create the space for conversation
Our CEO, Thom Dennis interviewed psychotherapist and coach, Chris Hemmings for our Serenity in Leadership podcast. During the interview, Chris discussed how mental campaigns often say, ‘Is it time to talk?’ but do not address how and when.
As many employees are not comfortable discussing mental health with their employers, an external facilitator can guide your team through a conversation. Facilitation is used to create an open and non-judgmental environment where everyone can voice their thoughts and concerns without fear of retribution.
Implement mental health strategies and policies
Ensure that there are procedures in place to support people who are at risk of suicide and those bereaved by suicide. This includes a return-to-work plan for people who have taken time off due to their mental health.
Mind your language
Our use of words has the power to further stigmatise or normalise the conversation around suicide and mental health. For instance, using the phrase ‘committed suicide’ originates from the treatment of suicide as a criminal act. Today, it is more acceptable to say, ‘died by suicide’ or ‘ended their life’.
Ask powerful questions
While it’s beneficial to ask, ‘How are you?’ and ‘Are you okay?’, this is likely to produce the same answer of ‘Yes, I’m good thanks.’ If we include deeper questions, we can create more dialogue.
For instance, instead of ‘How is your day going?’ you can ask, ‘What are three things that could drastically improve your experience at work?’, ‘What is something I can do to help relieve stress from your tasks this week?’, and ‘On a scale from 1 – 10, with 10 being really okay, what number would you give yourself today?’
Do not rely on time off
Time away from work is vital for well-being, but taking time off should not be viewed as a sufficient mental health solution. If workplace factors are not improved such as unrealistic work targets, employees will only return and experience the same feelings.
Leaders in the C-Suite must provide managers with the confidence to recognise and address cultural problems affecting mental health. This includes excessive long hours, fear and overbearing demands and pressures.
Focus on an inclusive, safe culture – Healthy organisations are made up of transparent, authentic and caring leaders. They frequently check in on staff, openly discuss mental health and make clear that they fully support employee wellbeing. Fostering an inclusive and safe culture where staff feel comfortable enough to mention suicide can help with its prevention.
For more guidance on creating mental health policies and support, contact us to create a customised plan.