What to do if someone is threatening imminent suicide
Call 999 and stay with them until the emergency services arrive.
Rethink Mental Illness advises that if a person is saying they want to end their life now, or has already tried, it may help to talk to them and take the following steps until professional help arrives:
- Be supportive and accept what they are telling you.
- Ask whether they are thinking about ending their life now or soon.
- Try and get a better understanding of why.
- Ask about their reasons for living and dying and listen to their answers. Try to explore their reasons for living in more detail.
- Ask whether they have tried to kill themselves before.
- Ask if they have plan for how they would do it in the future.
- Try to make them safe and be open to making reasonable steps to help them.
- Follow up any commitments that you agree to.
If you are in the same room as the person, you may also be able to remove things that they could use to take their own life. This could include sharp objects and knives, cleaning products, medicines and belts.
If a person is in crisis, Rethink Mental Illness recommends not leaving them alone. However, if you feel that you may be harmed, remove yourself from the situation and call 999.
The suicide of a colleague is a tragic event that, thankfully, most union representatives and local officers will never have to face. Unions can take steps to support members in such situations, including addressing workplace issues like bullying and harassment, collaborating with employers on suicide prevention policies, and offering support to members seeking professional help.
NEU representatives may often be the first point of contact for members in distress. While they are not counsellors, they can provide valuable support and guidance in connecting members with the necessary professional assistance. It's crucial to remember that, in times of crisis, unions can play a pivotal role in promoting a supportive and compassionate workplace culture.
Workplace suicide and employer responsibilities:
Every year, England and Wales witness approximately 5,000 suicides. Disturbingly, data from the Office for National Statistics in March 2017 revealed a higher-than-average incidence of suicide among female primary and nursery school teachers. Between 2011 and 2015, 139 female teachers took their lives, with nearly 75% of them being primary or nursery teachers. Factors like work-related stressors, including Ofsted inspections, have been linked to teacher suicides. Additionally, research reported by Hazards Magazine suggests a surge in suicides during periods of restructuring and job losses.
Addressing work-related problems contributing to suicidal feelings can simultaneously enhance working conditions for all employees by tackling issues such as:
- Stress – the NEU offers an online stress survey for use in schools/colleges and across workplaces. This allows reps to establish the extent of, and causes of stress, and can be used as part of a stress audit. Contact [email protected]. Once a union stress audit has been undertaken, reps and local officers should present the evidence to management. The employer has a legal responsibility to undertake a stress risk assessment and implement control measures to remove the causes of work-related stress.
- Workload – this is a significant cause of work-related stress. See Workload and working time.
Employer's legal duty and suicide prevention:
In the UK, workplace suicide is not legislatively recognised, and HSE reporting requirements specifically exclude suicides from workplace death statistics.
Nevertheless, employers bear a legal duty to safeguard their employees' health, safety, and welfare, encompassing both physical and mental well-being. Issues like stress, bullying, and excessive workloads, which may contribute to suicidal thoughts, must be addressed by employers. This entails identifying workplace hazards, assessing who may be at risk, and taking measures to eliminate or minimise these risks. Employers should also adopt a comprehensive suicide prevention policy integrated into their broader framework.
Business in the Community offers a valuable toolkit for employers, providing guidance on suicide prevention strategies, identifying at-risk employees, responding to warning signs, postvention, and additional resources.