Supporting employees around suicide

Supporting employees around suicide

Many people experience thoughts of suicide. Not everyone who does will go on to actively consider suicide and attempt to take their own lives, but many will. Suicide remains one of the leading causes of preventable death in Scotland and it affects a very wide range of people known to the person.  

In most workplaces, at any time some employees could be experiencing suicidal thoughts and may be at risk of acting on this. You may become aware of someone being at risk of suicide directly through them disclosing it, or from less direct ways such as concerns about someone’s behaviour, gut instinct about how they appear or because colleagues have flagged a concern. It is vital that staff in your organisation feel able to have conversations with colleagues about suicide. They do not need to be experts, but a compassionate conversation can sometimes make all the difference to saving a life. 

Key action to take

The key action to take if you are concerned about someone being at risk of taking their own life is to ask the question directly: “Have you been thinking about suicide?” or “Have you had thoughts of taking your life?”. It is best to ask this question directly and not to use euphemisms or minimising statements such as “You’re not going to do anything daft, are you?” 

Many people worry that asking directly may create a negative reaction, or even put the idea into someone’s mind. This is usually not the case and there is no evidence that asking is likely to put the idea into someone’s mind. Most people who experience thoughts of suicide find it extremely hard to tell someone and a direct question is the best chance of supporting them to share their feelings. It is better to ask and be wrong than for someone to be left alone with thoughts of suicide. 

Some steps you can take as an employer

If the person responds that they are feeling suicidal, there are some steps you can take. 

Listen to your employee

Simply listen with compassion and kindness. You do not need to have answers. Simply listening and showing you care can make a huge difference. It is best to avoid statements such as “Well, everyone feels like that sometimes”. Statements like this can make the person feel their problems are being minimised or misunderstood. Listen and offer to make time to meet again if the person would find it helpful. 

Encourage help from GP

Encourage the person to speak to their GP urgently. You can offer support from work to make this possible such as time off at short notice. You could offer to go to the GP with them if they would find that helpful. 

Give details of support providers

You can provide them with details of support organisations to contact.

View list of support organisations for mental health

Discuss your support

You can discuss what support you can put in place as their employer/training provider to help with their wellbeing.

Take immediate action if necessary

If you are very worried about someone’s safety, it is important to take immediate action. Do not leave the person alone. If you believe that someone is actively planning to take their own life imminently, you can call 999 and request emergency support from health professionals. 

A video about discussing suicide

Watch a short video by NHS Education Scotland on having a conversation about suicide  

Read our useful guides

Cover of PDF file Mental Wellbeing - Support for Apprentices, showing a young man smiling at a work tableIn partnership with mental health charity Penumbra we have compiled four comprehensive guides to accompany this web resource. These two guides, for employers, will help you to support your apprentices' mental health at work. The two guides for apprentices can be found in our Mental Health resource for apprentices.

View PDF guide Mental Wellbeing - Support for Apprentices

View PDF guide Supporting Apprentices around Suicide and Self-Harm




Logo of mental health charity Penumbra

We are grateful to mental health charity Penumbra for providing advice and information on mental health for this resource. If any of your apprentices or other employees need support, you should encourage them to contact a GP or professional mental-health support organisation.

Find support organisations for mental health