The stigma and silence about suicide causes enormous harm and means lives are lost. Data shows as many as 650 suicides in the UK each year could be work-related, approximately 10% of all suicides.[1] The inability for many to discuss the topic stops lifesaving conversations from happening in our workplaces and beyond. Identifying employees at risk of suicide is complex. Often there isn’t one event that leads someone to take their own life. It is usually a combination of lots of different factors interacting with each other. What we do know is that suicide prevention is achievable through education and intervention.

Business leaders can help prevent suicide through awareness raising, educating employees and ensuring appropriate support is available in the workplace. Many people experiencing a suicide crisis spend a significant amount of time in workplaces, even if it’s virtually. The workplace is so central to people’s lives which makes the role of employers all the more important. We spend a third of our lives at work, so employers have a vital role to play in suicide prevention.

Despite positive shifts in society’s attitudes to mental health, suicide remains a taboo topic. New research from MHFA England shows a third of employees (33%) would speak to their manager if they were experiencing poor mental health, but less than 1 in 5 (19%) would discuss having suicidal thoughts. The research also found that 75% of employees do not believe suicide prevention is part of their organisation’s mental health and wellbeing strategy.

While World Suicide Prevention Day is recognised annually in September, the necessity to take action in the workplace to support employee mental health should be a year round duty for business leaders. This can be done through giving people the knowledge, skills and confidence to discuss suicide safely with colleagues.

This may seem daunting, but it needn’t be. Having worked with over 20,000 different organisations, I know that many workplaces already have mental health and wellbeing strategies in place. If you are encouraging your people to speak more freely about mental health, seek support when needed and upskilling your managers, you are laying the foundations for suicide prevention in the workplace.

Being proactive in your approach to preventing suicide is key. Sadly, lots of workplaces only consider suicide prevention and training when the worst has already happened. Early intervention and prevention must be at the heart of wellbeing strategies.

One way to start embedding suicide prevention into your strategy is via Suicide First Aid training. The training provides people with a greater understanding of suicide, including how to spot the signs of someone who may be thinking about suicide and the confidence to intervene and help create a suicide-safety plan. Through appropriate training like this, employees will gain the confidence and skills to have vital conversations about suicide.

Alongside training, organisations should ensure that regular catchups between managers and employees are part of workplace practice. Discussing mental health and wellbeing, alongside objectives and performance, are an essential part of supporting people. These conversations can help managers spot signs of poor mental health early, and signpost to further help if necessary. Just as with physical health, early intervention, diagnosis, and support are vital ways to help people protect their mental health and prevent issues getting worse.

Employers can also share resources on suicide for everyone to use in the workplace. MHFA England has produced a new free resource, with advice on how to support someone experiencing suicide thoughts or behaviour.

When you also consider that each time someone dies by suicide 135 people are affected[2], and people personally affected by suicide are more likely to experience suicide thoughts or behaviour, we cannot afford not to act. People bereaved by the sudden death of a friend or family member are 65%[3] more likely to attempt suicide if the deceased died by suicide than if they died by natural causes. Employers can take action to help prevent crises, support survivors and ensure at risk employees aren’t put at further risk.

Creating a support focused action and communication plan following suicide is key. Business leaders should consider what resources are available such as access to trained health workers and mental health support services. If you have MHFAiders®, they may well see an increase in colleagues contacting them, so it is vital to engage with them to ensure they are also  supported.

All employers will be at different stages of their journey to support employee mental health and prevent suicide. That’s okay, it’s what you do next that is important. Everyone needs to come together to help tackle suicide prevention and as business leaders we have to act.

If someone is at immediate risk of attempting suicide, dial 999. If someone is having thoughts of suicide encourage them to call Samaritans on 116 123.





Alicia Nagar
Alicia Nagar
Head of People, Wellbeing & Equity at MHFA England | + posts

Alicia Nagar is Head of People, Wellbeing & Equity at MHFA England, the leading provider of mental health training. To find out more about how MHFA England can support you with suicide prevention and access our free resource about suicide in the workplace, visit here.