Work and suicide

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. 

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. 

Work and suicide – A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists

  • Samaritans (phone: 116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you're feeling, or if you're worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at [email protected].
  • Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won't show up on your phone bill.
  • PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
  • Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts.
  • Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying.
  • Switchboard LGBT+ 0300 330 0630 (10am to 10pm every day) is an information, support and referral service for LGBT+ people – and anyone considering issues around their sexuality and/or gender identity. They can provide both information and support, both phone, email and instant messaging.
  • Work suicide – Epostcard campaign: Send the HSE Chief this hazards campaign epostcard.

Around three quarters of suicides are male. The NHS advises that men may be more likely to avoid or ignore problems and many are reluctant to talk about their feelings or seek help when they need it.

  • A support group called the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is an excellent resource for young men who are feeling unhappy. As well as their website, CALM also has a helpline (0800 58 58 58).
  • Survivors UK offers web chat and support to men, including trans and gay/bisexual men, who have experienced sexual assault and rape.
  • Mankind offers support for men who have been sexually abused. Their helpline number is: 01273 911680.
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