Suicide Prevention in the Workplace

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Every year over 65,000 Australians attempt suicide, and suicide is the leading cause of death for 15 – 44 year olds (Black Dog Institute, 2018).

Managers can play a crucial role in supporting the emotional needs of their staff, assisting employees to access professional help, and thereby helping to averting the risk of suicide. Here are some tips to help you know how to provide the right kind of support.

Recognise the Warning Signs

Employees at risk of suicide may demonstrate a number of warning signs. By familiarising yourself with these behaviours you will be better equipped to help your employee.

Warning signs include:

  • * Talking about being a burden
  • * Seeming irritable, anxious or agitated
  • * Not being able to sleep
  • * Work absences
  • * Recent life stressor or loss
  • * Withdrawing from others
  • * Seeming distracted or not present
  • * Talking about suicide

Start a Conversation

If you notice any of the warning signs above, and you are worried about an employee’s safety, you should start by having a conversation.

RUOK?

Here are some tips for having a mental health conversation

  • * Approach the employee calmly and non-judgmentally
    • Ask open-ended questions like: “How have you been going?” or mention specific changes in behaviour that you have noticed, like: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been quieter than usual. Is everything ok?”

     

  • * Don’t try to solve all of their problems
    • Recognise that opening up is a big achievement, and encourage them to elaborate: “How does that make you feel?” or “How long have you been feeling this way?”

     

  • * Provide reassurance and simply listen to them
    • Repeating what the employee has said to you in your own words and asking if you have understood correctly, or saying things like “that must be difficult for you” can help them to feel heard and understood. 

     

  • * Ask them directly if they are contemplating suicide
    • Ask them: “Have you had any suicidal thoughts?” or “are you thinking about ending your life?” and ask if they have any plans. If the employee is at immediate risk of suicide, you need to arrange crisis support (see below).

     

  • * Support them in seeking professional help
    • Say something like: “it might be useful to speak with a professional who can help you”. Let them know about any local support services or provide them with the details of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you have one in place. You may want to prepare this information before starting the conversation.

     

Arrange Crisis Support

Your EAP is an essential part of the professional support systems available to your employees, and its use should be encouraged.However, employee counselling is not the same as crisis support.

People who are at immediate risk of suicide or self-harm should not be left alone, and should rather be taken to the Emergency Department of your local hospital. You can also call 000 or the Mental Health Crisis Line on 1800 629 354LifeLine is also an excellent and immediate resource, available 24 hours per day. Employees should be encouraged to contact LifeLine by calling on 13 11 14 if you, or they, are concerned for their safety.

Support Access to Counselling

If you are confident the situation is not acute, you should encourage your staff to seek professional counselling support, either through their EAP, or via their GP. A GP can connect them with psychological services available to the general public, and also provide holistic support for their overall health and wellbeing.

If one of your staff needs professional counselling, our Employee Assistance Program can be set up in minutes, and is readily available across multiple locations.

A prior suicide attempt is a significant risk factor

Studies have shown that 15-25% of people who have attempted suicide will make another attempt within three months (Headsup, 2018). For this reason it is crucial that you check in with your employee regularly and be aware of any changes in their behaviour and any warning signs they might display.

Returning to Work Following an Attempt

Returning to work can be difficult for an employee who has recently attempted suicide. They may feel isolated, alone, ashamed and/or embarrassed. As an employer you are legally required under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 to make appropriate changes to help an employee who has attempted suicide to return to work, as long as they can still meet the core requirements of their role. The best way to know how to do this is by asking the employee directly what you can do to support them in their return to work. Such changes may be temporary or permanent.

Some adjustments that may be implemented include:

  • * Flexible start and finish times
  • * Changes in shifts
  • * Changes in work location
  • * Reduced hours
  • * Reduced workload
  • * Changes in responsibilities e.g. not needing to do presentations or manage others

Making your Staff feel Valued

For an employee who is at risk of suicide, or who has attempted suicide, work can provide:

  • * a sense of purpose
  • * a stable structure and
  • * a source of social support.

To help an employee transition back into work after a suicide attempt it is also important to make them feel like a valued team member.

You can make your staff feel valued by:

  • * Showing genuine care and concern for them
  • * Including them in meetings and social events
  • * Checking in with the employee regularly to see how they are going
  • * Connecting them with your Employee Assistance Program

Suicide Awareness is Key to Suicide Prevention

To adequately support staff and prevent suicide, you and your staff need to be able to recognise depression and the signs that are typically displayed by persons at risk. Our Mental Health Awareness Training provides essential knowledge to enable managers and colleagues to recognise the signs of mental illness and know how to offer help.  

 

References

  1. https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/suicide-self-harm/facts-about-suicide-in-australia
  2. https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1391_supporting-someone-in-the-workplace-at-risk-of-suicide.pdf?sfvrsn=14
  3. https://www.ruok.org.au/how-to-ask

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