Worrying rise in the levels of suicidal thoughts amongst employees

As many as 90 employees in a 1,000-person organisation may be experiencing suicidal thoughts in 2023, an increase on 2022 levels. An expert in safeguarding and suicidal thoughts training has advised how employers can support their workforce amidst this public health challenge.

700,000 people commit suicide annually across the globe, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), making it a leading cause of death worldwide.

Analyses reveal that this death toll has risen by almost 20,000 within 3 decades, which presents a major worldwide public health challenge. 

In 2022 alone, 5,275 suicides were registered in England, a similar rate to 2021, but a higher statistically significant rate compared to 2020, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). 

This equates to 101 people dying each week from suicide in England alone, highlighting the extent of this dreadful public health concern. It is the only one continuing to rise in rates across the globe.

For those in employment in particular, suicide is an equally prevalent issue that has pervaded workplaces across the country. 

Considering nearly half (48%) of employees reported a decline in mental well-being in 2022, this only raises concerns about the risk of suicide in the workplace in 2023 and beyond. 

In particular, suicidal thoughts are known to be one of the factors that can lead to suicide attempts with its severity, in many cases, leading to an increased risk of suicide amongst individuals, according to research.

Referring to someone having thoughts of death or taking their own life, suicidal thoughts can happen every now and again or be a fixation that happens on a day-to-day basis. 

Previous data from the NHS has revealed that as many as 20% of people have suicidal thoughts, highlighting how prevalent an issue this is within the UK public. 

More shockingly, the number of employees who experience suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm has increased from 8% to 9% from 2022 to 2023, according to recent research, which is as many as 90 individuals in a 1,000-person organisation, a 10-person increase from last year. 

Mary-Ann Round is the Safeguarding Expert at Virtual College by Netex, an online training provider with courses in supporting mental health amongst the workforce and suicidal thoughts specifically.

She says: Every year between 5,500 and 6,000 people in Britain end their own lives – well over three times the number of people who die on our roads. Despite this terrible statistic, the stigma attached to talking about suicide remains. 

“Very sadly, employers often do not have a culture that encourages employees to be able to talk to someone about suicide and find ways to seek help. 

“And most managers and employers have never received education or training to deal with a situation where someone discloses suicidal feelings, which undoubtedly needs to be addressed as suicide is preventable, and employers play a crucial role in suicide prevention.”

Mary-Ann supported the online training provider in creating its ‘Suicidal Thoughts’ course to help learners better understand how to support those who are having suicidal thoughts by identifying the risk factors and behaviours associated with them.  

Ahead of Suicide Prevention Day on the 10th of September, the company has shared its insight in collaboration with Mary-Ann on the ways in which both employers and employees alike can understand suicidal thoughts in order to better support those in the workplace:

Identifying The Signs of Suicidal Thoughts Within a Team
The first step in addressing suicidal thoughts is knowing its signs, which can help employers and employees identify who in their workforce may be experiencing these thoughts.

Virtual College by Netex and Mary-Ann agree that these signs can include individuals being withdrawn or isolating themselves from family, friends, or the workplace. 

Another way that may be less obvious, however, is an individual appearing or acting happy despite having been isolated for an extended period and lacking interest in the outside world, which could be mistaken for a colleague being more upbeat than usual. 

Amongst other indications that an employee may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, these are some of the most nuanced and are therefore likely to be overlooked by colleagues, which is why it’s so important to be conscious of these signs in particular. 

The Risks Associated With Suicidal Thoughts Within The Workforce
There are a number of risks that can be associated with suicidal thoughts, some of which colleagues and employers may not know can place employees at an increased likelihood of experiencing this thoughts. 

Poor self-esteem is just one example relating to the person directly, which can lead to poor mental health which is associated with suicidal thoughts in particular. Physical illnesses are another, which may include those with chronic long-term conditions like neurological conditions or osteoporosis.

The experts further detail that negative changes in individuals’ lives can create an increased risk of suicidal thoughts, such as bereavement or relationship struggles, which may include divorce or separation from a partner. 

Ultimately, the individual’s mental and physical conditions, as well as their traits and personal circumstances can play a huge role in determining whether or not they are likely to experience suicidal thoughts. 

It is factors like these that Virtual College by Netex and Mary-Ann state people need to be conscious of, and attuned to, which means employers can be more aware of if any employees in their workforce may be at an increased risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

Why Positive Mental Wellbeing in The Workforce Is Vital, and How Employers Can Facilitate This
Employers need to also be conscious of the link between those with mental ill health and suicidal thoughts and behaviours, according to the experts.

The connection between poor mental health and suicide has been well-researched, and given that 48% of employees reported a decline in mental well-being in 2022, it’s imperative that employers are conscious of the implications this can have on their employees. 

There are ways in which employers can make active efforts to support the mental well-being of their employees in the workplace, as by doing so, they may be helping to prevent suicidal thoughts in the workforce. 

Virtual College by Netex and Mary-Ann detail that the simple ways in which employers can help support employee mental health include, encouraging a culture that doesn’t support working excessive hours or overtime in order to promote work-life balance. 

Finding ways to promote social interaction to build company culture relationships, such as  having activities and social events outside of work, can also help do this. Offering employees access to physical and mental support, such as well-being apps or gym memberships, can also help promote mental well-being. 

Should employers suspect, or know of, employees who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, these experts reveal that employers need to ensure that this is being voiced to the individual in a supportive and non-judgemental way, offering the employee the opportunity to voice their feelings openly.

But, this is not before employers feel that they themselves are in a stable and positive place with their own feelings, as without this, they are not in the correct state of mind to be helping others who are struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Employers and the employee(s) must then collaborate to think of the next steps, such as  seeking professional support, in order to gain the support needed to help prevent suicidal thoughts.

If employers ever feel that there is a risk of immediate or serious harm to an individual, Virtual College by Netex and Mary-Ann share that they should call emergency medical services or a crisis helpline, should this be available in your part of the country.

Mary-Ann feels that employers can have an important role in “signposting people to the right sort of professional support” should they be experiencing suicidal thoughts by “creating a non-stigmatising culture and a safe space to talk” despite this potentially feeling daunting to many managers. 

She therefore states that “employers can access training to gain a greater understanding of suicidal thoughts and the professional support that is available to build on their confidence in discussing sensitive topics surrounding mental health with their employees.” 

Anyone who feels that they are experiencing suicidal thoughts to contact UK mental health charities such as Samaritans, which are contactable 24 hours a day 365 days a year on 116 123. 


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