Spotting warning signs
Being told a colleague has committed suicide is sickening. This has happened to me twice, and I sincerely hope it never happens again. It was bad enough for me; I just can’t begin to imagine the pain for these people’s families. You keep going over in your mind if there is anything you could have done to prevent it, had you seen the signs, but subconsciously dismissed them?
The World Health Organisation estimates that over 800,000 people take their own life each year – that’s one person every 40 seconds. That’s tragic.
This Thursday (10th September) is Suicide Prevention Day. We know that employees have had the added stress of Covid-19, so now more than ever we need to be on the lookout for the warning signs.
I am no expert on mental health, so I asked my colleague Ase Greenacre, a mental health counsellor, if she could share some insights and tips with us to reduce the risk of ever having to hear of a colleague’s (or anyone else’s) suicide.
Suicide warning signs to look out for:
Change in appearance: weight loss or gain, lack of personal hygiene, increase in minor illnesses.
Change in behaviour: Increased alcohol intake, drugs, aggression, self-harm, putting affairs in order, emotional outbursts, risk taking that are out of character, sleeping a lot more than usual, stop attending activities that used to be important, stop seeing friends and family.
Intense feelings: Sadness, shame, loneliness, desperation, hopelessness, anger and disconnection.
Here are some tips on how to approach someone you might feel concerned about:
- Create a safe space for the person/s who needs to talk
- Find the right time and place Assess the situation – make sure it’s safe for you to approach
- Approach in as normal a way as possible
- Listen and communicate non-judgementally
- Give support and information only (not advice / don’t try and fix!)
- Pay attention to body language. Use attentive posture, comfortable eye contact, and gestures, expressions, and intensity that match the speaker’s
- Use thoughtful, open-ended, empathic questions to invite deeper thought and consideration: “How did you feel then? “
- Remind yourself that respectful empathetic listening is a gift you may give, and it does not mean “I agree with you”
- When the speaker pauses, you can briefly summarise what you heard in your own words, without solutions (this is the hardest part). When you need to say something: introject, don’t interrupt
MHFA England – Mental Health First Aid in the workplace
Ase also recommends every business should have mental first aiders, in the same way you have a normal first aider.
Mental Health First Aid training is a must for all organisations. The optimal quota is 1 mental Health First Aider for every 10 employees to provide adequate staff support.
As companies return to the workplace, awareness of the mental health of staff is even more prevalent as the experience and feelings around Covid-19 varies from person to person. There will be many different reactions and behaviours that will require understanding, empathy and patience. Some might also require more attention, and this is where a Mental Health First Aider come in.
What is Mental Health First Aid?
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an internationally recognised training course which teaches people how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help on a first aid basis.
MHFA won’t teach you to be a therapist, but just like physical first aid, it will teach you to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis.
Adult MHFA courses are for everyone aged 16 upwards. Every MHFA course is delivered by a quality assured instructor who has attended our Instructor Training programme accredited by the Royal Society for Public Health and is trained to keep people safe and supported while they learn.
To become a MHFA you need to do a 2-day training course. Sessions include activities, input and discussions in a small confidential group. All learnings have value for your work environment as well in your private life.
There is also a 1-day Champion MHFA course which is also a great step towards awareness and support within the company.
You will gain:
- In-depth understanding of mental health and the factors that can affect wellbeing
- Learn how to spot warning signs and triggers of mental health concerns
- Gain confidence in how to approach someone, assist and support them
- Focus on real skills as well as tips and tools to feel able to engage with this very complex area.
You will receive:
- Mental Health First Aider certificate from MHFA England
- MHFA manual
- MHFA workbook
- MHFAider badge & lanyard
- MHFA line managers guide where applicable
How will attending an MHFA course help?
Research and evaluation shows that taking part in an MHFA course:
- Raises awareness and mental health literacy
- Reduces stigma around mental ill health
- Boosts knowledge and confidence in dealing with mental health issues
- Promotes early intervention which enables recovery
Thank you Ase for your tips.
If you only do one thing towards suicide prevention:
Get yourself or at least one of your team booked onto a Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace course. In the meantime don’t ignore the signs. If you don’t feel you can help, at least point people in the direction of those that can.