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Stigma is stopping effective suicide prevention, warns MHFA England

07 September 2023

MANY EMPLOYEES lack the knowledge and skills to help prevent suicide in the workplace, reveals new research by MHFA England ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on the 10 September.

Over 1 in 201 people make a suicide attempt at some point in their lives. Data shows as many as 650 suicides in the UK each year could be work related – this is approximately 10% of all suicides.2

MHFA England’s new research, among 2,000 people in work, found many don’t know what to do if they’re concerned a colleague is thinking of suicide. A third of people surveyed (33%) believe incorrectly that asking about suicide can put the idea in someone’s head. Only one in ten (13%) know to ask a colleague they are worried about whether they have a plan to end their life and nearly 40% admitted they didn’t know if asking this question was the right thing to do.  However, all the evidence3  shows that asking someone, who has a plan to take their own life, a direct question about suicide can save their life. 

Despite positive shifts in how we talk about mental health at work and in wider society, suicide is still stigmatised. MHFA England’s research shows a third (33%) of employees would speak to their manager if they were experiencing poor mental health but less than 1 in 5 (19%) would discuss having suicidal thoughts. The top reasons are, not feeling comfortable (61%), being worried it would impact their job (36%) or that they would be judged (35%).

This research shows over 75% of employees do not believe suicide prevention is part of their organisation’s wellbeing strategy so MHFA England is calling on employers to explicitly include suicide awareness, prevention and support in their plans. 

One part of the solution is Suicide First Aid training. Suicide is preventable through education and intervention, which is why MHFA England has partnered with the National Centre for Suicide Prevention Education and Training (NCSPET) to deliver Suicide First Aid (SFA) training to workplaces. MHFA England also offer consultancy to help employers develop and implement plans to support those having thoughts of suicide and those impacted by suicide.

Suicide First Aid training provides people with a greater understanding of suicide, including how to spot the signs of someone who may be thinking about suicide and the confidence to intervene and help create a suicide-safety plan.  

Simon Blake, MHFA England’s chief executive said, “The stigma and silence surrounding suicide is harmful.  To prevent deaths by suicide, we must do everything we can to eliminate stigma. 

Workplaces have the potential to play such an important role, yet our research shows a large number of people are unsure how to approach a colleague they are worried may be considering suicide. This means they may not ask the lifesaving question – ‘are you thinking about ending your life?’ 

Workplaces can help prevent suicides through awareness raising, education and ensuring support. Many people experiencing a suicide crisis are in workplaces day in day out. In addition, it is estimated that when someone dies by suicide, 135 people are affected.4

“At MHFA England we want a society where everybody has the knowledge, skills and confidence to discuss suicide including at work. That is why we have produced a free resource to raise awareness about how we can support someone who may be experiencing a suicide crisis.”

Jamie Compton-Rea, chief operating officer at the National Centre for Suicide Prevention Education and Training said, “As two leading organisations dedicated to suicide prevention, the partnership between the National Centre for Suicide Prevention Education and Training and Mental Health First Aid England has expanded the reach of the lifesaving skills taught in Suicide First Aid. 

By merging our expertise, we're not just delivering training – we're fostering a proactive approach to suicide prevention that empowers individuals with the skills they need to have effective conversations that could save a life.”

One organisation that has already trained a number of staff in Suicide First Aid is the NHS Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Integrated Care Board (ICB). Alongside their 32 mental health first aiders the organisation also has 31 employees trained in suicide first aid skills and awareness.  

Caroline Nokes-Lawrence, head of Integrated Care Board’s People, Organisational Development and Inclusion said, “We decided to implement Suicide First Aid and awareness training to give our managers additional skills and confidence to talk about a range of mental health concerns with colleagues, including suicide. 

“The training has formed a really important part of our wider approach to mental health and wellbeing and sends a strong message to all of our employees and peer organisations that they can speak confidently about mental health and suicide at work and support is available.”

To find out more about MHFA England’s Suicide Prevention offer and to access a free resource to learn how to talk about suicide in the workplace, visit:  visit https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/campaigns/world-suicide-prevention-day-2023/