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National suicide prevention strategy highlights employers' role

The government has launched a five-year plan which aims to prevent suicide and self harm in England, detailing the role of employers, emergency services and online safety.

Recommendations to employers include employment assistance programmes, decdicated line manager training and peer support networks.

The plan also encourages employers to have staff trained in mental health first aid, mental health support and suicide prevention awareness.

Read more: MHFA England calls on employers to end suicide stigma

Sarah McIntosh, director of delivery at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, said the proposal is promising.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “We are delighted that the strategy has recognised the significance of the workplace in supporting those who are affected by mental ill-health and suicidal thoughts. 

“Everyone needs to come together to reduce suicide. Workplaces, where most adults spend over a third of their time, have the potential to play a life-saving role.”

McIntosh said business leaders and HR professionals should not be fearful of addressing the topic of suicide with their people. 

She added: “MHFA England is calling on employers to embed suicide awareness, prevention and support into their existing mental health and wellbeing strategies. 

“If you are encouraging your people to speak more freely about mental health and seek support when needed, and upskilling your managers, you are already laying the foundations for suicide prevention in the workplace.”

Research from MHFA found a third of employees (33%) would speak to their manager if they were experiencing poor mental health, but less than one in five (19%) would discuss having suicidal thoughts.

Read more: Case study from a suicide prevention manager

McIntosh said the stigma around conversations about suicide is still prevalent.

“We need a society where everybody has the knowledge, skills and confidence to discuss suicide and intervene if they are worried about someone in work or in their community.

“MHFA England offers consultancy to help employers develop and implement actionable plans to support those having thoughts of suicide and those impacted by suicide.” 

The strategy will be executed in England, which has the lowest rate of suicide in the UK at 10.5 deaths per 100,000 people.

Scotland and Northern Ireland already have suicide prevention strategies in place.

In Wales, a review of the strategy from 2015-2022 was published in March 2023.