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IT'S TIME TO TALK ABOUT SUICIDE

Suicide is probably affecting more people in your organisation, in various ways, than you realise. If your wellbeing messaging is only scratching the surface of mental health, think about how you can take the conversation forward and promote a culture where people feel able to open up when the pressures of life become overwhelming.

WORDS: ROB JONES

14th June 2021

Suicide is a difficult word. It makes people feel awkward or uncomfortable, and there are guidelines for how you should use it. Many people, and many organisations, avoid it altogether.

Anxiety, depression and work-related stress are more common mental health experiences. Suicide is perhaps considered too rare an occurrence – or too dark a topic – to explore, but the statistics suggest otherwise.

In 2019, in England, Wales and Scotland, there were more than 6,500 suicides. In the UK, men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women; the highest suicide rate is among men aged 45-49. Suicide is the biggest killer of people aged 16-24, and the suicide rate among young people is increasing.

And it is preventable.

One in four people will experience a mental health issue in their lives; some of those in your workforce might be having suicidal thoughts and not know who to talk to or how their line manager will respond if they open up. You may have managers concerned about a team member and worried that asking them if they are OK is intrusive or inappropriate.

You may have a colleague in your workforce who has lost a loved one to suicide. Do you understand what they are going through and how to support them through their immediate bereavement or life-long pain?  

Many internal communicators have had the heartbreaking job of telling employees that a colleague won’t be coming to work the next day.

No internal communication campaign alone is going to make someone’s depression disappear. Line managers are not expected to be counsellors. But as a collective effort – involving internal communication, HR and honest, open leadership – organisations can create workplace cultures that reduce the stigma around suicide and mental health, make people feel able to ask for help and give managers information to signpost colleagues to the right support.

A tough day at work or a poor working culture may not be the reason someone takes their own life, but a more open, understanding and listening environment can help people at their lowest point to seek help.

Over the coming weeks on Voice Online, we will share stories from people with personal experiences of suicide and from communicators who communicated a suicide in the workplace or rolled out campaigns to help more colleagues to open up if they are experiencing poor mental health.

 

Suicide: reporting and communication guidelines

Tips for safely talking about suicide in the workplace.


DO

Include trigger warnings at the start of articles or events discussing suicide, allowing those who may be vulnerable to choose whether or not to read on or participate.

Talk about the wider issues around suicide and say that it is preventable. This can help reduce the risk of suicidal behaviour. Referring to the long-term impact on the bereaved encourages a better understanding of suicide.

Tell stories about people who have come through a suicidal crisis. This can be a powerful testimony to vulnerable people and encourage them to seek help.

Train line managers in how to spot the signs of depression and poor mental health, and how to support team members and signpost them to the right resources.

Provide employees with clear information on how to contact relevant organisations, including helpline numbers, and reiterate that accessing this support is easy. This could save lives.

Always conduct your communication in conjunction with the family of a colleague who has died by suicide. It may be that they do not want the death to be communicated as a suicide.

If reporting a colleague’s suicide, look after your own wellbeing and that of the wider comms team. Use any counselling resources available to the whole workforce.

• Use phrases, such as “a suicide”; “taken his/her/their own life”; “ended his/her/their own life”; “die by/death by suicide”; “suicide attempt”; “attempted suicide”; and “person at risk of suicide”.


DON’T

Don’t report methods of suicide or use excessive or sensational descriptions or emotive language or images. This can glamourise suicide and lead to imitational behaviour among vulnerable people. Use a sensitive, factual approach to reporting a suicide.

Never describe a suicide method as quick or painless, or a suicide death as instant.

It may be safer to close the comments section on suicide stories. Responses to a story about an employee death may include inaccuracies or be inappropriate; colleagues sharing their personal experiences may influence vulnerable colleagues.

Do not present suicidal behaviour as an understandable response to a crisis or adversity. This risks normalising suicide as an appropriate response to distress.

Don’t speculate about the trigger or cause of a suicide. This can oversimplify the issue.

• Don’t use phrases such as “commit suicide”; “suicide victim”; suicide “epidemic” or “wave”; suicide “hot spot” or “notorious site”; “cry for help”; or “successful”, “unsuccessful” or “failed” suicide attempt.


This advice is based on the Samaritans’ media guidelines for discussing and reporting suicide.


Key resources for support

Below is a list of some resources that may help you if you are having suicidal thoughts, or you know someone who may be, or if you wish to talk about suicide in your internal communication.

Business in the Community
This business-led member organisation has created toolkits for employers: Reducing the risk of suicide and Crisis management in the event of a suicide.

Check-In
West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership's campaign to prevent staff suicide and promote a wellbeing culture, and provide training, resources and signposting for support.

Heads Together
A mental health initiative that aims to tackle stigma and change the conversation on mental health.

Healthwatch
A national organisation that helps people get the health and social care services and support they need.

Mental Health First Aid England
A social enterprise offering expert guidance and training to support mental health, in the workplace and beyond. This includes mental health first aider training.

Mind
A charity providing advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Mind campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. 0300 123 3393

NHS 24-hour mental health helpline
A 24-hour confidential helpline for anyone seeking support for their mental health. 0800 183 0558

The Mix
A UK-based charity that provides free, confidential support to young people under 25. 0808 808 4994

Platform 1
A mental health and crisis charity to help men with complex needs and to support men, who have, for whatever reason, not engaged with other services. 0800 066 28 28

Samaritans
A registered charity providing support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope or at risk of suicide. 116 223

Shout 85258
A free, confidential, 24/7 text messaging support service for anyone who is struggling to cope. Text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258.

Winston’s Wish
A charity supporting bereaved children, young people, their families and the professionals who support them.

Zero Suicide Alliance
A collaboration of National Health Service trusts, charities, businesses and individuals committed to suicide prevention in the UK and beyond.

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