· Comment

How employers can help prevent suicide 

Mike McCarthy brought his campaign for suicide awareness, support and prevention to number 10, Downing Street

My charity has collaborated with HR directors, academics and others to create the Workplace Pledge for suicide prevention in the workplace.

I have the best and the worst of reasons to support improvements in mental health provision. My son asked me to do just this, in a letter he wrote minutes before he took his own life. Ross was just 31 when he left the farewell letter saying goodbye to his family and friends.  

I’m interested in doing, rather than endless talking and empty promises about suicide prevention. Talking about suicide prevention has done nothing to stop the rot in UK mental health services and the stagnation in suicide figures for more than 15 years. 

Read more: National suicide prevention strategy highlights employers' role

Expert clinicians see suicide as preventable. But everyone has a part to play – employers as much as anyone. That’s why the charity I helped to form following my son’s death, Baton Of Hope, will, in just a few weeks’ time, publicly launch the Workplace Pledge.   

For more than a year, health professionals, HR directors, business leaders and academics have been working on the pledge, which we believe can become a kitemark of best practice in suicide prevention in the workplace.   

Why do we need such a pledge? Well, first, ask yourself: how many of your colleagues would ask for a mental health day? Evidence points to a huge swathe of people who feel that they cannot be open with their employer about the true cause of their absence.  

Read more: Suicide prevention charter for employers presented to parliament 

A YouGov poll shows that 63% of workers who have taken time off for mental health reasons have not been honest about their reasons for taking time off work. Bosses are in a unique position to create a sea change by signing up to the measures outlined in our pledge.  

If people are scared of being negatively judged about their mental wellbeing, chances are that they won’t and don’t speak about it. Maybe this is one of the reasons why suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50, and women under 35, in the UK. It is the biggest killer, despite the fact that most clinical experts agree that it is almost always preventable.   

So how do we prevent it? Maybe the first step is to openly acknowledge it for the crisis that it is, and do something about it. We’ve all heard of Stand Up to Cancer. Maybe we should also stand up to suicide.  

Read more: Suicide and the workplace: What to do when the worst happens

At Baton of Hope, we believe our pledge is the most comprehensive programme to date that helps employers play their part in the universal responsibility to save lives through suicide prevention. Our pledge has six principles for suicide support and prevention in the workplace: 

  • Make suicide awareness, support and prevention a workplace priority. 
  • Use clear and consistent messaging about suicide for internal communication and induction training. 
  • Implement suicide prevention, early detection and supportive services. 
  • Embrace those with ‘lived experience’ of mental ill health or suicide. 
  • Promote crisis services and other resources providing suicide prevention advice, counselling, training and support. 
  • Promote the pledge to increase suicide awareness, support and prevention. 

No one is immune from suicide. It can affect any individual, any family, any friend or colleague. The important bit is what to do… and Baton of Hope can help with that. As the name suggests, we believe there are many reasons to be hopeful. 

I’ll be introducing the Workplace Pledge at the Baton of Hope conference on 16 May, along with a host of speakers including the commentator Alastair Campbell and the president of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, Rory O’Connor. Tickets are on sale here. 

Ross was the best son a dad could have wished for. I wish, when I lost my son, I knew what I know now.  

Baton of Hope is working on behalf of the countless thousands who will never see their loved ones again. Together, we can do so much to make sure that others don’t go through the same nightmare. 

By Mike McCarthy, founder of Baton of Hope