Man looking through the window

Putting people first: World Suicide Prevention Day

The UK today isn’t well-equipped to deal with death. Although over the decades mortality rates have decreased, death remains a topic many understandably find hard to discuss. 

Suicide is even more difficult to broach. Until 1961, it was a criminal act to take your own life in England and Wales.1 Even now, there’s far too often a stigma around suicide and it’s still a taboo subject for many.

Death through natural causes for many is understandable. But someone taking their own life often leaves a lot of unanswered questions, particularly for family, friends and colleagues left behind. There’s always the thought, “Could I have done more?”

The need to take suicide seriously

In 2021, there were 5,583 suicides in England and Wales, representing a rate of 10.7 deaths per 100,000 people.2

Male suicide statistics are worryingly high — 16 deaths per 100,000 among men are attributed to suicide.2 Men are often stereotyped for not discussing their emotions, anxieties and need for support, but is this surprising in a culture that still sadly too often relies on males needing to have a stiff upper lip?

Work and suicide

The suicide rate in England and Wales per 100,000 people is highest among people aged 45–64.2 88% of people aged 35–49 are economically active, as are 72.7% of those aged 50–64.3

This means the people we are most likely to lose to suicide are probably in employment — our managers, colleagues and friends. This makes suicide an issue that sadly many employers and employees may have to deal with.

A government report found a strong link between suicide and occupation.4 Those working in the health sector and agriculture, for example, were at higher risk of taking their own lives. 

This said, for employees in any sector, job insecurity, disruption and change have all been cited as factors that can impact employees adversely and lead to suicidal thoughts.5 

The time is right to address the taboo

With inflation soaring and a likely economic downturn on the horizon, many people across the UK, as well as their employers, face an uncertain and challenging future. This compounds the everyday stress, worries and concerns already felt by so many.

As employers, consider how to best support the health and wellbeing of your employees — not just through the challenging times but consistently throughout their time with you.

Employers have a duty of care to recognise this is an issue that could affect any workplace. Providing support to people who may be struggling with their mental health and wellbeing or tackling issues like harassment and bullying is a big part of the solution. So is promoting open and honest dialogue between you and employees. If employees feel they can come to you with mental health concerns, it could prevent an escalation of those concerns through managed intervention. 

Upset woman looking through the window

Postvention as well as prevention

Employers must also consider how to support their entire workforce if an employee does tragically take their own life — postvention as well as prevention.

A colleague dying by suicide can have a profound effect on others within the business. Coming to terms with it needs time and support, especially to those closest to the individual that has taken their own life. 

An appropriate and empathetic response from employers, both in the early days and over the long term, can help everyone cope with the loss.

Putting the right support in place can help employees through the grieving process and is a critical part of preventing any suicides happening in the future.

How to support employees

Here are some important steps employers can take to get to that position: 

  • Ensure employees have access to mental health support and know how to access it
  • Provide mental health training for line managers — they’re in the best position to spot early signs of distress and support struggling employees
  • Have a postvention committee of employees from across the organisation who will develop guidelines and roll them out to the business if an employee does die by suicide
  • Select one person to own the process and be responsible for making sure it is kept up to date
  • Get support from senior leaders, ensuring they understand the postvention plan, what’s required of them and who the lead and committee members are
  • Signpost to support from national and regional charities with expertise in particular areas relating to mental health or bereavement
  • Draft communication plans and address any death openly and honestly, thinking about how to sensitively communicate the death
  • Consider how to manage social media as it’s the outlet colleagues are likely to use to express their grief and share memories. It’s important that organisations are aware of what employees are discussing so they can address any rumours or unsafe messages.

For more information, download a complete and comprehensive guide on how organisations can prepare for and manage suicides from Business in the Community in association with Public Health England and the Samaritans. 

Getting help

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this article then please consider visiting the NHS support page, where you’ll find a dedicated section on guidance and advice.

You can also contact organisations such as Samaritans, who provide a 24/7/365 service to those in need of support. Call them for free on 116 123, email them at, or visit their website to find your nearest branch.

1 Suicide Act 1961,
2 Suicides in England and Wales: 2021,
Office for National Statistics, September 2022
3 Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity by age group,
Office for National Statistics, September 2022
4 Work and suicide,
Trades Union Congress (TUC), February 2019
5 Inequality and suicide,

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