You may be surprised by the number of people who have become overwhelmed and considered suicide. Statistics show that around 1 in 5 people will have thoughts of suicide at some point during their lives.
Suicide is a leading cause of death in many countries. Globally, over 700,000 people die by suicide each year and 1 in every 100 deaths is by suicide. But suicide is preventable – and there are a range of preventative interventions, including good work design.
Research shows that work can be good for our mental health (e.g., see my article on Work Design). However, poorly-designed work or work-related stressors can lead to physical and mental health problems. In many countries there is legislation that requires employers to identify and manage these work-related stressors which can impact on mental health. Our experience at work is an important factor in determining our mental well-being, and can ultimately be a risk factor in suicide-related thoughts.
In 2019, three executives from France Télécom were convicted of “institutional moral harassment”, which led directly to the suicides of 35 employees.
We do know that thoughts of suicide can be interrupted. These thoughts may be common, but you do not have to act on them.
Suicide safety planning
I wanted to share this “suicide safety planning app”. It was created by Beyond Blue, a leading Australian mental health organisation, in association with Monash University. The app is available on Google Play, the App Store and there’s also a web version.
It’s called “Beyond Now”. Created in advance, it then gives seven steps to follow if you start to feel suicidal:
- recognise your warning signs
- make your surroundings safe
- remind you of reasons to live
- find things that can make you feel strong
- connect with people and places
- talk to family and friends
- get professional support.
FACT: Research shows that suicide safety planning makes suicide thoughts less severe and intense.
Suicide is a complex issue where social, psychological, cultural and other factors interact. This app is just one tool available. But it’s a practical tool that may prevent someone you know from acting on suicidal thoughts.
“You never know when you’re gonna start feeling depressed… if you’ve got a list of things that you know are going to make you feel better, that’s at least one way to start”
Suicides can be difficult to classify as related to work, particularly if the suicide happens outside of work hours, or away from the workplace. And we know that many factors will contribute to suicide. But we can say with some certainty that work and workplaces have a significant impact on our lives.
Given that people spend so much of their lives at work, or with work colleagues, we are ideally placed to notice changes in the behaviour of colleagues that may indicate risk of suicide. And in many countries, employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of workers.
There are many things that an employer can do to reduce the risk of work contributing to the causes of suicide.
Employers can help to prevent suicide by:
- Creating a work environment that fosters communication, a sense of belonging, connectedness and respect.
- Managing the characteristics of work that impact on mental well-being.
- Identifying and assisting employees who may be at risk for suicide.
Evaluating the feasibility and effectiveness of an Australian safety planning smartphone application: A pilot study within a tertiary mental health service, Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 49 (3) June 2019.
Evaluation of Beyond Now, 2017, undertaken by Monash University’s Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology.
Evaluation of Beyond Now, 2021, by Deakin University’s School of Psychology.
World Health Organization (WHO) factsheets on suicide: www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/suicide
UK HSE guidance on suicide prevention: www.hse.gov.uk/stress/suicide.htm
Where to get support
If you are in immediate danger, please call the emergency services in your location.
For other sources of help and support:
In the US, contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988, or call 1-800-273-8255.
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
International helplines can be found on the Befrienders website.
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