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Why is suicide still locked out of the workplace agenda?


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It has been documented many times that mental health is the elephant in the room and that HR and others in the workplace ignore and stigmatise the issue.

I have found this to be the case, however I am seeing green shoots of change, which is encouraging. We need more please.

Suicide however remains locked very firmly out of the workplace agenda. Something that we feel the NHS is dealing with, something that’s uncomfortable to anticipate consider or even think about. Something that would never happen here!

Here’s a fact: less than 20% of the 6,233 recorded suicides last year were people with any kind of mental health diagnosis.

Suicide is mainly working age people who seem OK and could be working next to you one day and not the next. It’s very firmly a workplace/community issue.

Male suicide is increasing and 75% of all suicides are men ~ however I still don’t see male-dominated workplaces recognising this or appreciating the risk?

When working with HR/H&S professionals I see them educate and prepare themselves and their organisation for all kinds of physical and human crisis and risk. This is commendable and means that when reeling from the impact of the crisis the response is measured and appropriate with team members taking their specialist part (good plan).

So WHY do so many of these professionals cobble something together in a panicked and ill-considered insensitive way when news breaks of a death by suicide, or when a client or staff member “talks” about suicide?

I don’t have a problem with anyone being ignorant about workplace suicide (it’s a difficult challenging subject) or being ignorant about postvention activities in the aftermath of a workplace suicide or disclosure of suicidal thoughts.

I have a huge problem with people remaining ignorant – not anticipating this issue and having a postvention framework document ready to go.

So if you’re reading this and you have a company postvention plan in the aftermath of an on- or offsite-suicide ready I commend you

If you and your team have considered activities in the immediate – acute phase – recovery phase and longer term I applaud you.

But if like a HR professional I spoke to this week you have nothing at all in place, don’t know where to start with containing the crisis, communicating to reduce the risk of contagion and comforting to promote healthy grieving, I suggest you think about getting this knowledge and talking in practical terms about this taboo topic …TODAY!

One Response

  1. There is definitely progress
    There is definitely progress with mental health and suicide being more openly talked about. Just like society came together to break down the stigma surrounding AIDS, we must strive to do the same for all those affected by poor mental health and suicide.

    As someone who has experience loss by suicide, I have taken steps to encourage organisations and employers to acknowledge the issues and to provide practical support mechanisms BEFORE they are actually needed. They must be embedded into a company’s culture and well being programmes as much as physical health is. Too many times however, I am met by a defensive response from HR professionals along the lines of “but we don’t really have a problem here with stress, depression or mental health. If we talk about it too much and highlight it, we’ll almost create a problem we don’t have”. Ie, employees will then start to think, oh yes I must be stressed/depressed/struggling. It’s such a dangerous approach and response, it alarms and saddens me in equal measure. We must have these support networks in place regardless of whether there is an issue right now. For at some point there will be. With 1 in 4 of us likely to experience some kind of mental health issue in our lifetimes, it’s not really a question of if but when. Organisations must be prepared to be more open and proactive to help support those when they need it most.

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