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Mike McCarthy

Baton of Hope

Founder & Organising Committee Member

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Suicide awareness training: Six risk factors to pay attention to

Tragically, 6,000 people every year in the UK alone are being lost to something that is now widely described by expert clinicians as preventable – suicide. How can L&D professionals ensure workers are educated on the risk factors and extend a lifeline to those in crisis?
woman leaning against a wall in dim hallway

With rising burnout levels, metal health issues and suicide rates, organisations are facing increasing pressure to identify and support struggling individuals as well as look at preventative workplace measures. This is not just the responsibility of HR and wellbeing advocates – L&D professionals have a key role to play in awareness raising and training among the workforce.

By enabling colleagues to spot early signs of mental health issues and suicidal thoughts, and act upon these compassionately, we can extend a lifeline to those affected, ensuring they receive the help they need in moments of crisis.

We know that suicide IS in the vast majority of cases preventable and every one of us is capable of generating hope – hence our first national conference on 16th May entitled ‘Making Suicide Everyone’s Business.’ 

During this event the Baton Of Hope charity will be unveiling its Workplace Pledge which employers can sign up to signalling their proactive commitment to suicide prevention in the workplace.

We know that suicide IS in the vast majority of cases preventable and every one of us is capable of generating hope.

Understanding the risk factors

One area in which L&D professionals can support suicide prevention is by raising awareness and delivering training on the risk factors for suicide and how we can mitigate against these.

We know that there are certain circumstances that are likely to increase the risk of thoughts of suicide and it is imperative that all managers, HR personnel and designated mental health advocates are well-versed in these.

Here are some of the key suicide risk factors for your colleagues to be aware of...

Risk factor one: Gender 

Men comprise the most vulnerable demographic, being three times more likely to die by suicide than women.

We must try to bridge the gap between men and mental health. This means using approaches tailored to resonate with men who otherwise might feel ashamed or reluctant to seek help.

By ensuring that services are not only accessible but also relevant to men’s needs, we can dismantle stigma and encourage them to seek help. 

Conversely, while the suicide rate for women remains lower than that of men, recent trends indicate a troubling uptick in female suicides.

It’s important to acknowledge the nuanced challenges faced by individuals of all genders and ensure equitable access to support services.

While the suicide rate for women remains lower than that of men, recent trends indicate a troubling uptick in female suicides

Risk factor two: Age 

Individuals between the ages of 45 and 59 face the highest likelihood of suicide, regardless of gender. 

In this age group, the pressures of juggling professional responsibilities with personal obligations can exact a heavy toll on mental wellbeing. 

It’s essential to recognise that the onset of mental health challenges during this life stage may be compounded by societal expectations and stigma. 

As such, targeted interventions that address the unique stressors and psychosocial needs of individuals in this age bracket are paramount. 

This may involve promoting mental health literacy, fostering supportive social networks and providing accessible avenues for counselling or therapy. 

Risk factor three: Bereavement

Both men and women are at heightened risk of suicide following the death of a loved one. Grief often manifests as a potent catalyst for emotional distress.

It is imperative to provide compassionate and comprehensive support services within our organisations. 

This may entail offering grief counselling, facilitating support groups, and ensuring access to mental health resources tailored to the needs of the bereaved. 

By fostering a culture of empathy and understanding, we can better understand the complexity of grief and mitigate the risk of suicide in the aftermath of loss.

It is imperative to provide compassionate and comprehensive support services within our organisations

Risk factor four: Sexual orientation and gender identity

These significantly influence mental health outcomes, with the LGBT community facing a disproportionate risk of suicide. 

Addressing the elevated suicide risk among LGBT individuals requires fostering inclusive environments, combating discrimination and providing targeted support services. 

By promoting acceptance, resilience and social connectedness, we can strive for a future where all individuals can thrive.

Risk factor five: Mental illness

Approximately one-third of individuals who die by suicide had been under specialist mental health services in the year preceding their death. 

Effective suicide prevention strategies must prioritise early intervention, destigmatisation of mental health conditions and comprehensive support services tailored to the needs of individuals. 

This includes enhancing access to high-quality mental health care and fostering a culture of compassion.

Effective suicide prevention strategies must prioritise early intervention

Risk factor six: Relationship breakdown 

For many, relationships serve as vital emotional support, companionship and validation. 

Research underscores its significance as a potential tipping point, which can exacerbate feelings of despair and hopelessness. 

By providing empathetic counselling and easy access to resources and fostering a culture of social connectedness, we can offer hope to those navigating the tumultuous aftermath of relationship loss.

Tackling work-related stress

Organisational changes such as redundancies, as well as disciplinary actions or challenging performance reviews are an essential ingredient of working life but can induce emotional stress for all involved.

When organisations are considering the stress on different areas of their workforce they should consider factors such as:

  • Demands – including workload, work patterns and the work environment 
  • Control – how much influence the person has in the way they do their work 
  • Support – including the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues 
  • Relationships – including the promotion of positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour 
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation. Whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles 
  • Change – how organisational change is managed and communicated in the organisation 

Use regular review meetings to check on wellbeing

Flexibility for wellbeing 

It’s important to ask yourself whether employees need to modify the order and workload of their activities. If there are high times of pressure, is it possible to create more flexibility around these times? 

Are employees regularly faced with emotional situations? If so, do not underestimate the impact of these on wellbeing.

Ensure education and training that means all staff, managers and leaders know how to notice the signs that may be a cause for concern and how to have open conversations about this. 

Use regular review meetings to check on wellbeing and to build resilience through stress management and mentoring/reverse mentoring schemes.

Understanding the complex interplay between behavioural patterns and suicide risk is paramount in designing effective prevention strategies. 

By addressing underlying psychological distress, promoting healthy coping mechanisms and fostering supportive environments, we can empower individuals to navigate crises with resilience and, ultimately, save lives.

Want to learn more? Read HRZone's guide to suicide prevention for employers

Author Profile Picture
Mike McCarthy

Founder & Organising Committee Member

Read more from Mike McCarthy

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