World Mental Health Day 2019 - having a suicide prevention strategy at work

Suicide is now the main cause of death for men under 50, and rates continue to rise amongst women too. Last year the total number of deaths by suicide rose by 11.8% in the UK. Across the globe, someone loses their life to suicide every 40 seconds. 

This year's World Mental Health Day falls on Thursday 10 October, and it will focus on the topic of suicide prevention. Suicide and suicidal feelings can be difficult to talk about, especially at work. Fortunately, in light of emerging research into productivity and mental wellbeing, organisations are starting to invest more in creating supportive, positive cultures that place the individual at the heart of business. In fact the most successful companies today place a high value on the health and wellbeing of their employees. One study found that highly engaged teams (that means people who are happy, healthy and satisfied with their jobs) show a 21% rise in productivity.

Consider your own workplace. Does it feel like a positive place to be, most of the time? Do you feel supported by the people around you? Are you allowed to have ideas, to recognise when you're having a bad day, to have an outlet to express yourself? Or do you work in a place where you feel trapped, unable to talk openly and discuss your mental health for fear of damaging your status or career?

Poor workplace cultures can lead to increased mental health issues and it's vital that we challenge them. Work-related stress, anxiety and depression now account for over half of sick days taken in the UK. Employers have the power to influence how we all feel - both positively and negatively. Addressing mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is one important step towards preventing suicide.

In his foreword to Public Health England's suicide prevention toolkit for employers, Unilever CEO Paul Polman said:

"It is important for an organisation’s approach to mental health and wellbeing to incorporate a suicide prevention strategy. By being explicit about its purpose we take a major step towards addressing the stigma of suicide.

"We should not fear talking about these issues in a workplace setting; rather we need to encourage it [...] above all, it will give you the confidence to begin the most difficult conversation at work: 'Let’s talk about suicide.' Your leadership could save a life."

It doesn't take a huge budget to create a better culture at work. Even owners of very small businesses can take some simple steps to improve staff wellbeing. Let's look at some of the things employers can do to help prevent suicide in the workplace.

1. Promote good mental health and destigmatise mental health problems

To create an open, supported culture, consider:

  • Appointing mental health champions or wellbeing committees to help raise the profile of mental wellbeing to bring about positive change.
  • Making sure mental health is always on the agenda with managers and team leaders setting an example to normalise the topic.

2. Reduce workplace stress

Work should challenge us and keep us interested - but it should never make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope for prolonged periods. If workloads are too heavy, a new approach may be needed. Encourage employees to be open with their managers. A culture of understanding and problem solving is infinitely more productive than one of silence and bravado.

Consider signing up to our FeelRite Stress Awareness e-learning course - an engaging, flexible, cost-effective way of training any number of staff across your entire organisation.

3. Prevent and take action against harassment and bullying

Employers have a legal and moral obligation to provide a safe, positive environment that respects everyone equally, regardless of gender, race, age, religion, disability, or sexual orientation.

Our Equality and Diversity e-learning course teaches staff about their rights under the Equality Act 2010.

4. Offer support and psychological health services

Even though managers may have received training to identify and support staff with mental health problems, they are probably not qualified to diagnose or provide treatment. In this case only a qualified health professional can help and managers must encourage the employee to see a GP and attend follow-up treatment if recommended.

Some organisations offer their staff free or subsidised counselling sessions. Others provide helpful information about various charities and organisations. The important thing is to support and encourage employees to seek professional help if deemed necessary, and be prepared to consider flexible working arrangements such as home working and time for appointments.

5. Train managers and key staff

Training for managers and key staff is integral to any suicide prevention strategy. Managers should be able to promote active discussions with employees to help decide on practical improvements and measures. They should also be able to identify work-related stress, manage the risks and prevent them.

It may not always be the case, but sometimes mental health problems can be triggered by work. Individuals can feel out of their depth and unable to cope, maybe their role isn't quite what they wanted it to be, maybe they don't click with the people around them, or maybe an uncomfortable environment or monotonous routine is getting them down. Either way, their employer has a duty of care to provide an environment that feels safe and supportive, and reacts to the needs of the people working there.

This World Mental Health Day, think about how your organisation approaches mental health. Is there more it could be doing? Can changes be made to improve the workplace culture?

Our wellbeing consultants can help you create a strategy that works for your organisation. Find out more and get in touch here