Preventing suicide – the work connection

Published date
17 Jan 2018
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.
Workers in counselling discussion

There can be few more tragic issues that a union representative has to deal with than the suicide of a fellow worker. Fortunately, this is something that most union representatives will never encounter but the issue of suicide is an important one and can often be linked to issues such as workplace stress, bullying or harassment.

Recently, a number of unions have started looking at what they can do to try to support anyone who may have suicidal thoughts and also to try to prevent people from having these thoughts. To support this work, the TUC has now produced a short guide on suicide prevention. This stresses that there are a number of things that employers can do to try to ensure that no employee feels that they need to end their own lives.

Most of it is pretty simple and it includes having support in place for workers such as an Employee Assistance Programme so that workers always have someone they can talk to who will be able to offer advice and support. They can also train all line managers to notice any of the early warning signs. Obviously preventing anxiety and depression caused by work-related stress is also important, as is tackling bullying and harassment.

All of this is already available to employers in the really good toolkit that was produced by Public Health England and Business in the Community.

Union workplace representatives can also have a role to play. The TUC guidance highlights a number of areas that are worth considering. These are:

  • Ensure that your employer is aware of the issue of suicide and suicide prevention as a workplace issue and that they have accessed appropriate advice and support.
  • Jointly review existing policies on stress management, bullying and harassment, mental health and employee assistance.
  • Seek training from the TUC or your union on dealing with mental health issues.
  • Ensure that organisations such as the Samaritans are invited to any health or well-being events organised in your workplace.
  • Encourage members to talk to you about any problems that they are having at work.

Unions do not expect their stewards and health and safety representatives to be trained counsellors but we often find that workers confide in their union representative when they have problems and just talking can be a great help. Also, by knowing what warning signs to look out for, sometimes you can make sure that they know where to get help.

Finally, let’s not forget that the work that unions do to help prevent stress, long hours, low pay, bullying, harassment and job insecurity already goes a long way towards helping prevent workers from feeling depressed and that is a major part of our “Great Jobs Agenda”.

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