Data from the Office of National Statistics reported that in 2019, the suicide rate for men in England and Wales was the highest for two decades – 4,303 men and 1,388 women – and Samaritans are concerned that ‘the impact of the pandemic this year is taking a huge toll on people’s mental wellbeing.’
Given the length of time it takes to hold an inquest (around five months), the ONS can’t report the total number of suicides that have occurred during the pandemic. However, the mental health charity Mind, says that many (not all) suicides, are mental health-related and a substantial amount of people who take their own lives have asked for support for their mental health, which suggests they are being failed when they need it most.
Suicide prevention is a matter for employers
You may be wondering if suicide prevention is an issue for employers – here at Broadstone we believe it is. Most employers are aware how offering mental health support as part of their employee benefit package is beneficial to overall health and productivity. Yet, we rarely consider how poor management or inappropriate behaviours could even exacerbate an issue.
We are not for one moment suggesting this would result in suicide, the issue is far more complicated than that – but a positive approach by employers, particularly colleagues in HR and occupational health could make a difference. A starting point would be in educating yourself on the statistics including risk factors, and actively considering how COVID-19 is having a real impact on top of this.
Suicide facts and figures
Men are more at risk of suicide than women – 75% of suicides are male. There are many theories why this is the case – generally, men are notoriously reluctant to visit their GP for any reason, there still remains a stigma around mental health and they could be viewed as weak or less masculine if they discuss their problems. In addition, men may not feel as comfortable openly talking about their feelings with their support network as women do.
And yet, suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales. If your employ people in low skilled occupations, they have a 44% increased risk of suicide than the national average, and while those of you who work in construction are on the ball when it comes to health and safety on site, the number of suicides in your industry are six times higher than falling from height!
Thanks to a concerted effort by charities and celebrities the issue of mental health is being discussed more openly than ever before and Broadstone are delighted to see how many of our clients are embracing employee benefit packages that tackle a much wider range of health and well-being solutions. Be it “free” EAP and early intervention services offered alongside an insurance contract, or standalone health and wellbeing in action for instance, Broadstone’s experienced health and wellbeing consultants are available to advise and help with designing and implementing numerous support mechanisms and formal processes to help businesses of all sizes to support the positive mental health of its employees. This, of course, should be tailored to your workforce and particular issues.
First steps for employers
As we navigate our way through the post COVID-19 world there remain many uncertainties for your business and naturally for your employees (as I write this, the government has capped the number of people that can meet socially, and one of the key vaccines we have been hoping for has been put on hold).
Concerns about health, employment and finances are stressors for everyone, but when an employee is already under pressure, the stress could become overwhelming.
As a responsible employer you should remind your staff that it’s OK not to be OK. Look out for changes in personality, lethargy, lack of productivity and individuals becoming anxious or agitated. Engage your Line Managers with their team – actively checking in with people outside of asking about business. There is a very useful toolkit from Business in the Community in association with Public Health England that we are suggesting our clients download today on National Suicide Awareness Day.
Please remind yourself of the benefits you already have available to you – while our Consultants actively promote the wider support available alongside your benefits, and have active conversations with our clients, it’s easy to forget that many of you have relevant support available – without the need to pay any extra for it.
If you don’t have support in place though, the toolkit is a great starting point. Next we suggest talking to one of our team who can advise you on the best way forward to embed some of these strategies alongside your employee benefit package.
Employers may worry about cancer or heart disease when it comes to looking after the health of their workforce – but the startling fact is that suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50 – so isn’t it time you started to address that?
There has never been a more relevant time to remind people that you shouldn’t keep it locked up inside. Talk to a professional, or to a friend or colleague… to a degree, it doesn’t matter to who or when – just share the pain.
If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, please call the Samaritans on 116 123, or if someone is in immediate danger, please dial 999.