Signs of suicide at work

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Health Assured team

19 August 2022

The stigma around suicide makes it difficult to talk about—especially in the workplace.

Employers have a duty of care to protect their staff’s mental and physical wellbeing. And since a fifth of adults reported having suicidal thoughts at some point, it’s a serious workplace issue. 

For managers and leaders, it can be hard to know what to do if an employee is suicidal. Employees having suicidal thoughts at work is hard to identify. Because of these challenges, you must take a proactive approach to manage these issues at work. This article will cover signs of suicidal tendencies in the workplace and employer responsibilities for suicide prevention.


What is suicide?

Suicide happens when a person injures themselves–to the point of death, or near death. People might have suicidal thoughts or harm themselves during everyday life—both personal and professional. They might look reasonably normal on the outside, but inside they’re suffering on extreme levels.


What are the signs of suicide at work?

The signs of suicidal tendencies aren’t always easy to spot. However, you need to be aware of what they are and how to deal with them. Here are some warning signs of suicide:

  • Feeling hopelessness and despair.
  • Lack of interest in daily activities and appearance. 
  • Anxiousness and irritation.
  • Weight fluctuation.
  • Low energy levels and regular tiredness. 
  • Making reckless decisions. 
  • Increased alcohol or drug use.

If you recognise any of these signs within your employees, make sure you pay extra attention to their wellbeing. Dealing with suicide in the workplace isn’t always easy, but it is important.


What are UK laws on suicide at work?

Employers have a duty of care to protect their workers. And this includes protecting physical and mental health by reducing potential risks. Some of the most common mental health risks which contribute to suicidal thoughts include:

If one of your employees has a pre-existing health condition, these factors pose an even greater risk. In most cases, people with suicidal tendencies may be medically diagnosed with poor mental health - which may be classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Here, the employee’s health condition must:

1.Have a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on their daily life.

2. Last at least 12 months (or is expected to).

3. Influence their ability to do normal activities.

Because of this, you need to safeguard anyone with health conditions whilst protecting overall staff wellbeing.


How to implement suicidal prevention in the workplace

When it comes to preventing suicide at work, there are several methods you can follow. But ultimately, it’s all about raising awareness and implementing prevention policies. Here are some essential steps toward implementing suicidal prevention in the workplace:


Identify any suicidal signs

When dealing with employees who are feeling suicidal at work, be empathetic and take their issues seriously. Listen to their concerns and ask open-ended questions. Let them know that this is a safe space and avoid being judgemental during this time. Everyone will respond differently; certain things will work better for some rather than others. So, be patient and take your time—you don’t need to have all the answers.


Update your mental health policy 

You can demonstrate your wellbeing intentions by updating your mental health policy. Aim to include proactive attitudes on employee wellbeing for both managers and employees. Establish how you will maintain a healthy environment where staff can feel safe and comfortable. And identify potential mental health risks and how you’ll mitigate them. This policy should include a section on suicide prevention - providing a safety plan that employees can refer to during a crisis.

A safety plan can include a range of things. They may include 1) a list of trusted contacts, so if your feelings become overwhelming, you can reach out to one of these contacts for support. 2) Professional resources, a contact number for a crisis helpline or your therapist (if you have one). These people can help guide you through your emotions and send for additional support if needed. 3) Ways to comfort yourself; this will include a list of activities that help you feel calm and relaxed. Overall, a safety plan includes a range of resources that can help you access the support you need whenever you need it. 


Provide suicide prevention training

Through the appropriate action and training, your employees can feel supported during difficult times. The best step is to provide managers with mental health first aid training. This type of training will be invaluable when dealing with suicidal employees. The training can include how to:

  • Identify the early stages of a mental health problem. 
  • Help someone who’s dealing with personal issues.
  • Break the stigma of mental health conditions. 
  • Guide someone towards professional help. 
  • Prevent self-harm or hurt towards others.


Raise suicide awareness

Suicide has a stigma that makes it challenging to discuss. It makes it difficult for people to share suicidal thoughts or tendencies. When you address mental health openly in the workplace, it's easier for employees to approach the topic with colleagues. 

You can tackle this by raising awareness of mental health at work. Highlight the issue with posters, encouraging employees to speak about struggles. Breaking the stigma around mental health is a slow process. But in the end, your employees and your organisation will benefit highly. 


Provide regular check-ins

Employees might not have access to support in their personal lives. In a suicidal state, they might feel alone with no means for hope. That’s why intervention is essential.

When managers regularly check in with employees, they provide a safe space for employees to share difficult emotions. This sharing process can ease the pain of how they might be feeling. Then, you can direct them to support - which can help prevent fatal incidents from occurring. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, support is available in the UK via the Samaritans helpline on 116 123.


Get expert support on suicide prevention with Health Assured

Health Assured can support you on how to deal with a suicidal employee in the best possible way. Our teams can guide you through our health referral service, which allows managers to take employee support to the next level. 

We also deliver an industry-leading Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Our EAPs give employees the mental health support they need to get through personal or work-related problems.

And our counsellors have extensive experience talking to people going through suicidal thoughts at work. They know how to provide 'in-the-moment' support and get the person the best help they need. 

Contact our wellbeing experts today via 0800 206 2534.

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