Supporting employees around suicide

It's important to know how to support employees at risk of suicide. Find information and links here.

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 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

  • from concerns about someone’s behaviour

  • from gut instinct about how they appear

  • because colleagues have flagged a concern

It's vital that your staff feel able to have conversations with colleagues about suicide. They do not need to be experts, but a compassionate conversation can sometimes make the difference in saving a life.

Key action to take

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

Many people worry that asking this may create a negative reaction or even put the idea into someone’s mind. This is usually not the case and there's 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. A a direct question is the best chance of supporting them to share their feelings. It's 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're 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. Listening and showing you care can make a huge difference. It is best to avoid statements such as “Well, everyone feels like that sometimes.” 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'd 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 with them what support you can put in place as their employer 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, call 999 to get 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

In partnership with mental health charity Penumbra we've compiled 4 comprehensive guides to accompany this web resource.

These 2 Employer Guides will help you to support your apprentices' mental health at work. The 2 Apprentice Guides can be found in our Mental Health resource for apprentices.

Explore the rest of our Mental Health resource

What are mental health difficulties?

What we mean by mental health difficulties and how you can help apprentices at work.

A healthy working environment

Creating and maintaining a healthy working environment benefits employees at all levels.

Supporting employees who self-harm

Find out how to support staff who are, or may be, self-harming.

Your duties as an employer

Advice about your duties in supporting the mental health of your apprentices and other employees.

Go to start of resource

You'll find links to the other parts of the resource as well as a list of mental health support organisations.

Further support

Support for you - apprenticeships 2 432 x 288

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

Mental Health resource for apprentices

We've also pulled together a companion resource for apprentices. This is a good first place to guide people to if you're worried about their mental health.

View Mental Health at Work - a resource for apprentices