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Employers urged to tackle mental health on World Suicide Prevention Day

Suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally

Employers are being urged to support employees with mental health problems and, in turn, help to prevent suicides.

It coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September), an annual awareness day organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). 

According to ISAP, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.

In the UK, the rate of suicide has hit a 16-year high following half a decade of decline. Last year 6,507 suicides were registered, marking a 12% rise on the previous year and the highest rate since 2002.

Kim Horsfall, senior consultant at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, said mental illness is a growing concern for employers with rising numbers of people suffering and taking their own lives.

“While many employers recognise that they have a responsibility to support the mental wellbeing of their employees, there is much more that can be done,” she said. “The key is breaking the stigma around discussing mental illness and developing a culture where people feel comfortable seeking help.”

Horsfall said that as well as providing access to services such as counselling, mental health first aiders and employee assistance programmes (EAPs), employers could take advantage of technology, for example access to online GP services or mental health apps.

Figures from GRiD, the group risk association, reveal 1,851 people returned to work through mental health early interventions funded by group risk insurers during 2018, and 293 claims were paid for deaths by suicide.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said the numbers belie the reality.

“For every person struggling with their mental health, or who dies by suicide, there are many more affected: colleagues, family, friends. And the group risk industry doesn’t just support the individual with their mental health challenges, but also those around them: financially, following suicide; and/or emotionally – and that’s a lifeline to help people get back on track,” she stated.

Alison Simmons, senior mental health nurse adviser for RedArc Nurses, added that insurers now recognise that providing support for emotional wellbeing is important.

“As well as helping people when they have reached crisis point, insurers are also aiming to deliver access to specialist third-party services at an earlier stage to potentially avoid a mental health condition deteriorating,” she explained. “This is often a combination of access to a dedicated medical mental health practitioner, counselling, therapies, online tools and apps, reading materials and a helping hand to navigate the NHS.”