Suicide remains a major concern for Australians, taking over 2,800 lives per year. It is the leading cause of death among 15-44-year-olds, with young men and small business owners making up a large proportion of the cohort. Ahead of R U OK Day on September 13, leading workplace mental health expert Marcela Slepica suggests it’s time workplaces took up the conversations to try and identify and help avoid potential incidences of suicide.
“Most adults spend around one third of their waking hours at work, so companies can play a pivotal role in providing key health information and intervening if an employee is struggling with mental health or if they are having suicidal thoughts,” says Marcela Slepica, Clinical Director at AccessEAP a leading not for profit provider of Employee Assistance Programs.
“Most people who die by suicide show warning signs and managers, especially are in a unique position to identify team members who are struggling, so knowing what to look out for and where to find help is crucial. While managers may feel overwhelmed by the perceived responsibility, it is important to remember that there is professional help available,” adds Slepica.
Here are Access EAP’s tips on identifying when and how to have a conversation with an employee:
Know your team
Ensure that you maintain regular contact with your team and get to know your employees. Greet them, have interactions with them. This helps develop important connections but you will then also be in a position to notice if there are any changes in their behaviour, for example, withdrawal, irritability, unexplained absences or a drop in performance at work. Such changes may be indicators that the employee is going through some emotional difficulty and finding it hard to manage.
Have a conversation if you are concerned
A simple conversation will clarify your concerns with the employee and may be a first step to helping them find support. Make sure the conversation occurs in a discrete and private place. Be clear that you are concerned. Give specific examples. Ask “Are you okay?”
“Is something concerning you?” “Do you want to talk about it?” “Can I do anything to help?”
Listen to what the person is saying without interrupting. At the end, summarise what you have heard to check that your understanding is correct. Do not make judgements or assumptions about what they have said. If you’re unsure about any comments they have made, clarify with an open question that allows the person to talk in more detail about their issue, rather than providing a simple yes or no.
The employee may indicate that there are issues at work that could be helped by making some changes at work. In that case, you may wish to explore specific solutions. Do not go into problem-solving about personal issues. Remember you are their manager and not their counsellor. Offer empathy, but at the same time, know when to stop and offer professional help.
Know when to escalate
If an employee makes any reference to suicide or self-harm, ask them directly “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” Unless the answer is a direct and clear “No”, immediately escalate to an appropriate person. Your options may include:
- An existing support person, for example, their GP or family member
- EAP Manager Support Hotline
- Emergency department for assessment or the police
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or mental health issues please seek help. Call Lifeline 131141. MensLineAustralia 1300 78 99 78. Young People aged 12-25 seeking help can call Headspace 1800 650 890.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics – Causes of Death 2016 http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2016~Main%20Features~Intentional%20self-harm:%20key%20characteristics~7