For a long time, mental health has been a taboo topic in the workplace, despite the fact that suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged 20 to 49 in England and Wales, according to Suicides in the UK: 2013 registrations, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in February 2015. Furthermore, 5,821 suicides occurred in Britain in 2017, as found by the September 2018 report.
Thankfully, the negative perception around mental health is shifting and employers are increasingly looking at ways to support suicide prevention in the workplace.
Many organisations offer employee assistance programmes (EAPs), providing 24/7 access to confidential professional counselling; however, many do not fully review the tactical application of the services provided. To combat this, employers should arrange a meeting with the provider to discuss the specific support available for suicide prevention.
In addition, it is important to train mental health first aiders. Training employees to spot suicidal signs and offer proactive support is a critical prevention step. There are many providers out there; the mental health charity Mind is a good place to start, particularly as it also offers e-learning options.
Employers can also become a signatory to the Mindful Employer charter, which provides access to information and training for staff who experience mental health conditions. Signing the charter indicates a commitment to working towards its principles, not the immediate fulfilment of them.
Occupational health support can offer expert guidance at critical times. If an employee shows suicidal signs, a timely response is essential and an established occupational health provider can give valuable support to both HR and employees.
Flexible working and enhanced sick leave, coupled with a compassionate approach to discussing issues, will encourage staff to be more open. Mindful Employer’s Making work work is a useful form to use in conjunction with sickness absence which enables mental health issues to be addressed compassionately and constructively. It can be adapted easily to suit flexible working requests to support mental health conditions.
Above all, regardless of the benefits in place, any campaign to foster good mental health and prevent suicide should ensure there is an environment that is supportive and trust-based, to normalise the issues and encourage openness.
Gemma Bullivant is a board trustee at Twining Enterprise, a charity which provides support to people in London with mental health conditions in employment