Suicide is when someone deliberately ends their own life. Suicidal thoughts happen when somebody is thinking about, or planning suicide. In the UK, someone takes their own life every 90 minutes and men are three times as likely to take their own lives, compared to women.
What are some of the risk factors and signs for suicide?
The potential risk factors for suicide are:
- Experiencing bullying or discrimination
- Existing mental health condition
- Experiencing sexual assault or abuse
- Drug/alcohol addiction and abuse
- End of a relationship
- Losing a loved one to suicide
- Significant change
- Being diagnosed with a serious medical condition
- Experiencing debt and financial problems
The potential warning signs for suicide are:
- Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
- Making financial preparations (updating wills etc)
- Talking about or writing about dying, death or suicide
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Anxious, agitated or acting recklessly
- Increasing use of drugs and alcohol
- Talking about being a burden or nuisance to others
- Withdrawing or isolating
People who experience suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean they will go through with it – suicidal thoughts are common and many have them at some point in their life. However, it is extremely important to take suicidal thoughts and people talking about taking their own life seriously and making sure they are safe, like any medical emergency.
What can employers do if they are concerned an employee is having suicidal thoughts, or they are threatening to take their own life?
Somebody concerned that an employee or colleague is having suicidal thoughts or threatening to take their own life should treat the situation as a medical emergency.
If the person is at immediate risk to themselves (i.e. they are taking actions to end their own their life), then the emergency services should be called on 999. They will then send an ambulance and police to help keep the person safe and deal with the emergency. Somebody can then continue to talk with the person and reassure them that they are safe and valued, and listen to them whilst the emergency services arrive.
If the person is talking about harming themselves or taking their own life, the first-aid procedure for suicidal behaviour or emotions can be followed:
- Provide an opportunity for the person to talk. If they do not initiate a conversation, you should say something to them.
- Tell the person why you are worried about them and ask about suicide (be direct): Have you had thoughts about ending your life?
- Listen to what they say carefully, remain clam, and provide reassurance.
- Phrases such as ‘my life isn’t worth living anymore’ or ‘I just want to disappear’ must be taken very seriously.
- If you believe the person is in serious danger and they have tried, or are going to try to take their own life, stay with them and call the emergency services on 999 (or ask somebody else too, if there is somebody with you).
- If they are not actively suicidal (they do not have a plan for suicide, and they say they do not want to take their own life) encourage them to seek professional help (they can book an emergency appointment with their GP, or go to an accident and emergency department).
- If they are already receiving treatment from a mental health service, such as a crisis mental health team, ask them to contact them and stay with them whilst they do
- Make sure they have support at home. If they live alone, encourage them to speak to somebody (a family member or a friend) whilst you are there so you know they have support when they leave the office.
- You can also encourage them to contact the Samaritans helpline any time they are feeling low or having suicidal thoughts: 116 123.
How does somebody with suicidal thoughts or who has attempted to take their own life get treated?
If someone is treated in hospital following a suicidal crisis, they will be assessed to find out the best options to keep them safe. This includes a referral to a specialist to organise a professional treatment plan.
When someone visits their GP because of their suicidal thoughts, the GP will assess their condition and plan the most appropriate treatments plan. This can include a referral to a specialist mental health team (or crisis team for immediate support).
A treatment plan is usually based around the mental health condition the person may be diagnosed with (such as depression or psychosis). This may include therapy and medication, as well as referral to a crisis team.
Crisis teams are part of the NHS and they provide urgent help and support for people going through a mental health crisis (such as suicidal thoughts or psychosis). They are given a mental health crisis plan, which will include who they can contact in an emergency, as well as any treatments they will receive such as therapy and medication. Crisis teams provide short term care for the mental health crisis, like an intensive care unit for acute medical crises, after which the support would be provided by a mental health service or the GP.
What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees experiencing a mental health crisis with suicidal thoughts or attempting to take their own life?
Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with a mental health crisis if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee is experiencing a mental health crisis. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.
If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance upfront, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of bipolar disorder:
- Extra time to complete tasks to accommodate difficulties the person may have juggling work tasks and depressive thoughts, for example.
- A structured working day to allow the employee to concentrate more easily.
- Adjustment to duties such as during an employee’s manic episodes where they may not be in sound enough mind to operate potentially dangerous machinery.
- Time off to attend appointments, so that the person can work on recovery while staying in work.
- Flexibility regarding working from home if the employee is having a particularly difficult episode and they would find it easier to work without the added commute, for example.
- Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the employee’s mental health crisis and can help ensure the employee feels comfortable at work. This might involve learning more about the condition to gain a better understanding of what the employee might be facing day-to-day.
Signposting for Suicidal thoughts
Samaritans – provide a listening to ear to somebody who is going through a difficult time, or having suicidal thoughts. Completely confidential and available 24/7 on a freephone number. 116 123
Mind – a mental health charity that provides drop-in centres for mental health and information and resources on suicide and suicidal thoughts.