More than 6,000 people in the UK take their life every year.
Three-quarters of those suicides are men.
Suicide is the biggest killer of young adults under the age of 35 and of men aged between 50 and 54.
And while there is a link between unemployment and suicide, the reality is that most people who die by suicide are in employment.
So why does suicide remain one of the biggest workplace taboos?
The most well-meaning managers often see it as a topic that is too complex to address.
Yet, as we discovered in a recent webinar co-hosted with campaign organisation Baton of Hope, the workplace actually offers a huge opportunity for suicide prevention and awareness raising.
The myths around suicide
The mistake so many of us make is assuming that if we ask someone if they are feeling suicidal, they will go and take their life.
That’s not the case says Professor Rory O’Connor, an international authority on suicide who was part of our discussion.
Professor O’Connor leads the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory at the University of Glasgow. He says there is no evidence that asking someone if they are suicidal plants the idea in their head.
“It’s quite the opposite,” he says. “If you ask them that question, then the research shows that the person is more than likely to get the help and support they need.”
The risk factors
Our panel explained that while suicide is complex and rarely caused by a single issue, it is not inevitable.
“People become suicidal when they feel defeated and humiliated, from which they cannot escape. It’s that sense of entrapment which is a driver to the emergence of suicidal thoughts,” Professor O’Connor explains. “So, the question I would put back to governments to organisations, schools, to all of us is – what are we doing that is alleviating, reducing the chance that someone feels defeated or humiliated, or feels trapped?
“The stark reality is that systems, societies, organisations, are making it more likely that people feel trapped and defeated and humiliated rather than the opposite.”
Lis Skeet, Director of Operations for Samaritans, points to the fact that for all the good practice developed around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace up to now, hybrid working has created an additional challenge, with people able to hide how they are feeling behind a screen.
“There are not those spontaneous opportunities in the way that there used to be, to notice somebody’s behaviour and how that’s changing over time, which is something that managers might ordinarily have been tuned into,” she explains.
Training managers to listen and keep communication channels open is key she believes.
A charter for workplaces
Mike McCarthy who co-founded Baton of Hope after losing his son Ross, is campaigning for a workplace charter that will embed suicide prevention and awareness into employers’ mental health and wellbeing strategies.
He told our audience that the business leaders he has been speaking to feel that mental health is just too complex to deal with. “A lot of it is fear,” he says. “We need a change of approach.”
Included in the six principles of the charter is using clear and consistent messaging about suicide for internal communication and induction training, and implementing suicide prevention, early detection and supportive services.
“We hope that employers take this as seriously as physical health in the workplace,” says Mike. He is looking to chief executives, line managers and HR leaders to make the change happen.
If you would like to sign up to the Baton of Hope’s charter, register your company’s interest on their website.
How leaders can help
Given that we spend such a big part of our life at work, our panellists agreed that the workplace is a key area for intervention and support.
“What it takes is leadership from the top of an organisation,” Professor O’Connor says. “We need champions, basically role models, willing to talk about their mental health.”
This discussion is one of the many workplace-focused webinars available on-demand as part of our employee wellbeing streaming service Ashia where we host regular conversations with expert guests to provide learning for management, HR and wellbeing teams alongside supportive content for individual users. Previous topics have included how to manage grief, unconscious bias, men’s mental health and menopause in the workplace.
With stigma-busting content and anonymised, real-time analytics, Ashia provides proactive support and insight into the concerns of your workforce, helping you to inform your future wellbeing strategy.
Discover how to transform your approach to employee wellbeing by signing up for a free, no obligation, 30-day trial of Ashia.