Starting a conversation about suicide in the workplace

Oct 26, 2015

The recent suicide of a Melbourne police officer at work has prompted public discussion on the issue, including what workplaces can do to support people who may be at risk.

In the wake of the senior constable’s death, Police Association Victoria Secretary Ron Iddles highlighted the connection between the stress and trauma of regular police work, and the high incidence of psychological distress and suicide within the police force.

In this Sydney Morning Herald article, the veteran former homicide detective also refers to the 8 per cent of police officers currently experiencing PTSD – more than double the prevalence rate in the wider community. Research into the mental health of doctors and other workers who regularly deal with emotional, distressing situations shows similar trends.

But while some industries and roles undoubtedly pose greater risks, suicide can affect any workplace. Tony McManus also shares his experience in the article, reflecting on the suicide of his brother and co-worker in the family real estate business in 2005. Following his brother's death, Tony organised grief counselling for his team to help them deal with the emotional impact. “I wasn’t geared as a small business owner in what to say,” he says.

beyondblue’s head of workplace research, Nick Arvanitis, urges businesses to develop skills and confidence across their entire workforce, so all employees can play a role in suicide prevention. “Not to diagnose, but to be aware of the supports and services available for that person, and ensuring they seek support as soon as possible,” he says.

"The worst thing we can do is not approach someone who is really struggling within the workplace for fear of invading their privacy or saying the wrong thing."

Suicide prevention: what your workplace can do

  • Learn about the warning signs for suicide and act immediately if you think someone you work with may be at risk. Find out more about providing support
  • Promote a working environment where work-related stressors are identified and reduced, and everyone feels safe and comfortable to speak up if they aren’t coping.
  • Consider training key staff in suicide first aid and make employees aware that trained colleagues are available to talk to. Provide access to a private phone to allow staff to call a suicide crisis line if required.
  • Ensure you are across the appropriate policies and procedures for managing a crisis situation where an employee is at risk of suicide. If your workplace does not have these, talk to the appropriate person about getting them developed and implemented.
To learn more about suicide prevention, including how to support someone at risk, visit Heads Up’s dedicated suicide prevention section.

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