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7 December 2018

Suicide prevention in the workplace

I recently attended a ‘Suicide First Aid’ (Understanding Suicide Intervention) course, which is a City & Guilds accredited programme, run by the formidable Andrea Newton (of ABD CCT).

When I first heard about the course I made the decision to attend for two reasons. My first was that during the course of my work I have sadly come into contact with people who have admitted to having suicidal thoughts, and so as a very real future possibility I wanted to ensure I equipped myself in the best possible way to be able to deal with any such conversations in the future. My second reason is that unfortunately I have first-hand experience of the repercussions of suicide, having lost a very dear and close friend several years ago, the after-effects of which I continue to feel to this day.

The course has a subtitle of ‘how to have a conversation that could save a life’ and has the underlying theme of removing the immediate risk and intervening to get the individual able to get the professional help that helps them improve their (mental) health, just as you would attempt to do in a first aid situation of another nature – you aim to maintain safety and life in the moment. We talked about some pretty shocking statistics during the course:

A comment that Andrea repeated throughout the course was that ‘suicide happens when the resources for coping with pain are not enough’. At other times, the person may have sufficient resilience for coping with what life is throwing at them, but a series of events and issues might lead to a situation where the next thing, however big or small might be the final thing that breaks them. This had even more resonance for me when I learned this weekend that a guy I had gone to school with had recently taken his own life. Even though I’ve not seen him for years, I thought of him as a normal, down to earth bloke and a typical man’s man. So it made me shed a tear that someone else I had known had felt that low and desperate that they believed there were no other options remaining to them.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has recently updated their first aid guidance, stating that employers should consider ways to “manage mental ill health in your workplace which are appropriate for your business” and has updated their guidance on the same. After all, we ensure we have first aiders in the workplace who can deal with immediate physical health issues, so why not mental health issues? A petition recently submitted to Downing Street, organised by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England and supported by 50+ business leaders (including¸amongst others, chief executives from PwC, WH Smith and Thames Water) specifically calls on ministers to amend health and safety legislation to put mental and physical first aid on an equal footing. And in September, Prince William and MIND launched a new Mental Health at Work website. Thankfully it seems the subject is becoming less and less taboo and more action is being called for.

So, if you’re reading this, please consider the following:

And one final thought, if you are someone who could be in the position of talking to someone with suicidal thoughts, from my own experience this is a not something that can be taken on board lightly or without some emotional impact, so please do ensure that you build your own reservoir of resilience, construct your social scaffolding and invest in the pro-active things you can do to ensure you are in a good place to be able to help others – in the analogy of the plane crash situation, put your own oxygen mask on before helping those around you.

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