Emma Mamo: Staff should feel able to talk openly about mental health

Every suicide is a tragedy. The causes of suicide are many and complex and vary from person to person. We know that often people struggle in silence and find it difficult to know how to ask for help.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics, published in 2014, show that male suicide is three times higher than the female suicide rate. Men are still less likely to talk about their mental health than women, and are less likely to seek help from a health professional if and when they are struggling with their mental health.

It is vital that workplaces create an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about mental health, and know that if they do, they will be met with understanding and support, rather than facing stigma and discrimination. Small, inexpensive measures such as flexible-working hours, generous annual leave and regular catch-ups between staff, can make a huge difference to the wellbeing of staff in workplaces.

If you think a colleague is experiencing suicidal feelings one of the most important things you can do is to talk to them about how they feel and be there to listen. You may feel pressure ‚Äėto say the right thing‚Äô, but just being there and listening in a compassionate way is vital to helping that someone feel less isolated and frightened.

Losing a colleague or friend is an incredibly difficult thing to deal with, particularly if it is sudden or unexpected, as is often the case when someone takes their own life. Employers should ensure measures are taken to support the wellbeing of their staff, whether that is formally through offering a bereavement counsellor, or an employee assistance programme (EAP), or informally such as regular catch-ups with colleagues and managers.

Tips to support someone who might be experiencing suicidal feelings include:

Listen non-judgementally: it is understandable to feel shocked or even angry if someone close to you thinks about taking their own life. It is important, however, to try not to judge that person or blame them for the way they are feeling.

Encourage them to get help: even when someone appears to be determined to take their own life, it is important to explore every possible source of support with them. They may know what has worked in the past already, otherwise you can suggest they get an emergency GP appointment, dial 999 or go to accident and emergency (A&E), contact their local crisis home treatment team, or call the Samaritans on 116 123.

Encourage them to stay safe: encourage them to remove from easy reach anything that could cause harm, such as sharp objects or large amounts of medication. If you feel able to, you could offer to stay with them until they can get some emergency support. If you are not able to be there in person you could offer to chat over the phone or online.

Respect confidentiality: remember mental health information is confidential and sensitive. Do not pass on information unnecessarily, not least because this breach of trust could negatively impact someone’s mental health.

Look after yourself: knowing someone you care about is having suicidal feelings can be very distressing and emotionally draining. It is important to look after your own physical and mental wellbeing. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat regularly and do things you enjoy.

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Emma Mamo is head of workplace wellbeing at Mind

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted for free at any time on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.org.