Most of us spend a large part of our waking hours at work.
This can have a major bearing on your health and wellbeing as it can give you a purpose to get up in the morning, as well as a sense of belonging.
Conversely, an unhealthy working environment that causes, or exacerbates stress can contribute to poor mental wellbeing.
There is a still a lot of stigma and silence attached to suicide in society which understandably extends into the workplace. People experiencing mental health issues and/or suicidal feelings may fear losing their job or jeopardising their career, or being seen as incapable or unstable/ unreliable. Consequently, they are reluctant to tell anyone, which compounds the stress.
Managers or employees may be worried that a work colleague is considering suicide from their behaviour or something they have said, so it’s important they know what appropriate action to take in these circumstances.
As an employer, you can do a lot to create a supportive mental health environment. You can think about the workplace and avoid, or reduce, the difficult or stressful situations. You can set up additional support by training some of your staff to be a Mental Health First Aider, and you should consider the risk of suicide and incorporate a prevention strategy.
Not everyone may view suicide as a workplace issue and yes, many of the employee’s troubles may well be personal ones. But people can’t be expected to leave their personal worries at home and of course, work also has the potential to contribute to someone’s state of mind. Feeling able to bring one’s whole self to work also means feeling able to reach out and share a serious mental health issue and/or suicidal thoughts.
If someone is struggling, knowing they can approach a colleague or a mental health first aider and be listened to with empathy and without judgement could be the first step in them accessing the help they need.
Organisations also need to ensure it provides appropriate support for any individual who listens to someone who’s having suicidal thoughts.
Employers have a legal duty of care to provide a safe working environment for employees. This duty also requires employers to support their employees’ health and wellbeing. That includes creating an environment where mental health is treated with the same importance as people’s physical health, and the culture is one where people feel able to talk about suicidal feelings and seek help.
So let us consider how best to deal with an employee who discloses suicidal thoughts or has already attempted suicide. This could be a one-off situation, but it’s also possible that someone could have a plan to attempt suicide and/or has enduring thoughts about taking their own life.
As an employer you cannot be expected to act as a counsellor, and it’s important that managers also understand this is not their role either. It’s important to have boundaries and know when/how to refer someone to more specialist sources of help where needed.