September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day: an annual global event which aims to raise awareness about suicide and prevent loss of life.
It’s estimated that more than one million people die by suicide around the world each year, with rates in the UK rising sharply. New figures released this month show that over 6,500 people died by suicide in this country last year – an increase of nearly 12% on 2017.
Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland has described the increase in suicide rates as “a serious public health issue”, one which disproportionately affects young people. The overall suicide rate for women aged under 24 is now at a desperate all-time high.
While mental health awareness has never been higher on the policy agenda, it’s clear that much more needs to be done. If every suicide is preventable, then the duty to prevent is a collective one. What role might employers play in this?
Many businesses are waking up to the importance of supporting employee mental health and fostering an environment in which staff can talk openly about their wellbeing. On a human level, it’s the right thing to do, but it can also make sound business sense.
Mental health is the biggest cause of UK workplace absence, costing the economy an estimated £94bn each year. Businesses that protect employee mental health nurture a happier and more engaged workforce. There’s also growing evidence that happy staff are more productive.
Workplaces that prioritise mental health have preventative strategies, tools and support in place across their employee base. Leaders promote an open and inclusive culture where conversations are encouraged, and staff feel recognised. Their approach to mental health is an holistic one and is embedded within deeper organisational change.
Some forward-thinking businesses are taking this preventative approach a step further, by offering access to round-the-clock support. Recognising that vulnerable employees – and particularly those with suicidal thoughts - might need intervention, they provide an independent point of contact, giving staff somebody to reach out to in times of crisis.
FirstCare’s nurse-led triage is one such solution. As part of our absence management service, we operate a dedicated telephone helpline staffed by registered nurses which is used by thousands of employees across the UK each day. Using FirstCare’s STRAWS telephone triage protocol, our nurses provide employees with professional medical advice, directing them to treatment where necessary. While many of our callers are seeking advice for short term illnesses or minor ailments, a growing number are calling for more serious reasons.
In the last five years, FirstCare nurses have received more than 100 calls from employees thinking about or even planning suicide, and the figure is rising. This year alone, we have dealt with over 40 calls from people who expressed an intention to either harm themselves or take their own lives. The number of these critical calls has risen by a third since 2015, representing over 14% of the serious clinical incidents our nurses deal with.
Many of these calls are made by employees who urgently need help, and in extreme cases are about to take their own lives. These emergency situations, where the caller is on the brink of suicide, are dealt with swiftly by our nursing team, who can intervene rapidly to prevent tragic loss of life. Calls like these can involve a range of critical scenarios. Last year our nurses received an upsetting call from a man who was about to take his life at a railway bridge. They were able to successfully calm the man and arrange emergency treatment, saving his life. Another call involved a woman who had harmed herself. Our nurses immediately called for paramedics, staying on the line to comfort the woman until they arrived.
We also receive numerous calls from people who are depressed, worried and anxious, and simply need someone to talk to. Our nurses are able to signpost these employees to the right medical treatment and provide accurate advice and support.
Businesses using our nurse-led triage tell us how positively employees perceive the service, with many choosing to call FirstCare instead of 111 or the emergency services. And because we employ medical professionals, managers can be sure that staff will receive the advice and intervention they need.
While many absence management solutions rely solely upon software, our nurses deliver a much-needed human element to employee wellbeing support. They also give employers complete peace of mind that they are doing all they can to protect their staff – and build a healthier and more productive working environment.
FirstCare’s Commercial Director, Steve Carter, explains why nurse-led support can make such a difference:
“Every suicide is a tragedy and we believe that every suicide is preventable. Employers can play a vital role by giving staff access to round-the-clock support and advice, as part of an absence management service which safeguards wellbeing. Our nurse-led triage ensures that staff will always have someone to turn to, providing the right advice and intervention and potentially saving lives.”
If you or someone you know is affected by suicide you can find help and support from the following organisations: