Before we start, go grab a brew, this will be a difficult read in places but also incredibly important. Ready? Let’s go.
“Can we have a chat?”
It invariably raises internal alarms, and is this exact question, asked to me when I was sitting at my desk pretending to work on a Friday afternoon that would kick off a lifesaving conversation.
It was asked of me by a senior manager in the company I worked for at the time. Thinking I was in shit for pretending to work for the last couple of hours, I naturally said yes and sheepishly followed him to the meeting room expecting a bollocking. What he said next caught me completely off guard
“After work today, I am planning on killing myself”
As someone who’d had extensive suicidal thoughts and came scarily close to it on a number of occasions, it wasn’t a new concept to me, even if I did still panic a little (I mean, it’s hard not to).
I asked him if he knew how he was going to do it, and he described a detailed plan to me and even knew the exact time he would do it. I asked what had happened to prompt this decision, and it was due to a relationship breakdown which, in his mind, meant all sorts of catastrophic consequences.
I said to him, “All those consequences you just listed, are they guaranteed to happen? Like they’re set in stone?” I knew the answer already; it was more a case of, did he?
He accepted that they weren’t guaranteed and that other outcomes were possible. I then asked him, “After we leave this meeting room, what could you do? What are your options?”
We then spent an hour discussing everything he could do – from going home and getting drunk to calling the GP and everything in between; some of them would be brilliant ideas, others not so much.
I then asked him if he could pick one idea that sat well with him out of everything we’d discussed and written down. He said that he would like to speak to his GP.
To cut a long story short, we put things in place to make that happen, and I’m glad to say that he’s still with us and doing really well.
After that chat, I felt emotionally and physically exhausted, and one thing became abundantly clear to me – That company had zero measures in place to support someone in crisis, or even emotional distress. Nothing, nada, zilch. Who would this person have spoken to if I didn’t have the personal experience and passion for mental health? What would the company have done to support him? Or if (god forbid) he’d have gone home that night and carried out his plan.
This person was a respected and well-liked senior manager in the company with decades of experience. What would that have meant for the company and the staff in it?
I’m going to revisit this question in a bit, but before I do, I want to share a scary statistic with you.
I recently ran a survey with over 100 companies that asked Hr professionals 20 questions; at the end of the survey, they received a score on their workplace wellbeing strategy as well as some tips. You can take it here if you’re interested.
One of the questions was this
If an employee was in crisis (a risk to themself or someone else), does your organisation have a plan to deal with this?
Here’s how the results stacked up
· 57% said no, they have nothing but think they should
· 24% said a policy exists, but it’s not up to scratch
· 16% have a crisis plan and are happy with it
· 2% said they don’t need one (I like to think this would be for 1 or 2-person organisations)
But that means that 81% of organisations who responded were underprepared to support an employee in crisis.
Let me say that again, a little louder for those at the back, 81 PERCENT wouldn’t have a workable plan to prevent or effectively respond to a threat of suicide, an attempted suicide or a completed one.
Now I’m not shaming anyone here; I get it. Everyone is busy, and we have more immediate issues that need our attention, but I’m guessing that most of these organisations have some kind of plan for fire, data theft or flooding. But can suicide be as devastating as those other kinds of disasters?
Yes, and then some; the stakes are huge.
People often speak about the ripple effect of suicide. On a personal level, that includes family, friends, colleagues, medical professionals, and people who support all of those I just mentioned. But let’s focus on the repercussions on the organization:
Loss of Human Life: The most devastating of all. One life lost is one too many, but grief and trauma are incredibly powerful things that can ruin lives.
Organizational impacts An incident could lead to in-depth scrutiny from the HSE (health & safety executive), impact the brand’s reputation and a suicide in the workplace is likely to see an area of the premises out of use for potentially months. Even when it reopened, would you want to work where it happened?
Increased Staff Turnover & Absence: Grief and trauma could lead to extended absences or even resignations, especially if staff feel unsupported or that the employer could have done more. The cost of this can be astronomical.
Dwindling Productivity: Staff are likely to feel less motivated, less empowered and potentially less supported. Many employees also feel like they can’t face working there because of what is now associated with it.
Financial Ramifications: Absence, staff turnover, lower productivity, operational shutdown, loss of skill, recruitment, training – this all means money. Lots and lots of money.
Suicide in the workplace is often viewed as something that happens to other organisations or other people until, suddenly, it isn’t. In my time as a mental health consultant, I have honestly lost count of the number of workplaces that find themselves in this position and in the cold light of day, facing the harsh realities of what’s happened; every single one of them has admitted that they wish they’d done more.
Don’t get caught out. And let’s switch back to the human element for the moment; you give a shit about the people around you, right? Good, I thought so. Well, let’s do something to protect and support them.
If you’re reading this thinking, “We should do something about this” then I can help make it easier (because policies are painful at the best of times and that’s before we get to the subject of suicide!)
I’ve created a complete suicide prevention pack which can be downloaded and implemented; here’s what’s included:
A Ready-to-Implement Policy: An adaptable suicide prevention policy template. It’s straightforward: just fill in your company specifics.
Clear Response Protocols: An exhaustively detailed suicide response plan outlining the steps to take under various scenarios – be it someone at risk, an attempt, or, regrettably, a completed act.
Suicide awareness posters: Five meticulously crafted posters designed to promote an environment of care, vigilance, and understanding.
Crisis cards: A wallet-sized crisis card ensures instant access to critical guidance. It’s an easy-to-follow beacon in the darkest of times.
Either way, take care out there, folks, of yourselves and each other.
Until next time,
P.S. Finished that brew? Go get another one; you probably need it if you’ve made it this far.