Suicide Numbers and Suicidal Thoughts on the Rise

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With psychological injury on the rise, mental health and worker well-being are fast-moving onto the radar in terms of business risk. The number of successful suicide attempts is higher than ever. Mental health issues are a risk factor for suicide, particularly substance misuse and depression. Research is showing that early intervention and mental health support are key to preventing suicidal thoughts.

Death by suicide statistics shows the 2017 numbers are higher than ever. Over a year, 65,000 people attempt suicide, and almost 600,000 have suicidal thoughts. For every death by suicide, as many as 30 people attempt to take their own life.

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Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15-44. Of the suicides in 2017, 75% were men. Due to the increasing and high numbers of suicides each year, the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded during July 2019, that Australia should be aiming for “zero suicide”.

Business is failing to support staff mental health

Research conducted by Minter Ellison revealed that:

1. Organisations are not measuring the impact of staff with mental health issues on their workplaces,
2. Most organisations do not have specific policies or procedures for identifying and managing staff mental health issues, and
3. The level of investment in preventative mental health and well-being programmes directly relates to how satisfied participants are with their organisation’s management of staff with mental health issues.

The study found that there is a need for increased training and involvement by managers and executive teams in the management of staff mental health issues. To proactively identify and manage staff mental health issues, 50% of managers expressed a need for additional skills and knowledge

The Western Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum outlined 11 warning signs of workers at risk of suicide to urge employers to get up to speed with workplace psychological hazards. They have produced a safety bulletin to educate employers. The safety bulletin has a range of practical actions to support well-being to prevent suicidal behaviour. Work-related stress is a key focus in this report. Not all stress is bad, however, prolonged stress can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

See our article on FIFO worker’s mental health.

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Suicide impacts the whole community

The Understanding, the Exposure and Impact of Suicide in Australia report, demonstrated that the ripple effects of suicide among the community reach further than previously thought.

  • Exposure to at least one suicide attempt was at 89% of the study participants.
  • Exposure to a suicide death was 85%, and
  • 2% reported attempting suicide themselves.

The closeness to a person who dies through suicide is important in how others grieve and the wider community impact. The most commonly reported losses were of friends, acquaintances and brothers. The survey responses show that 32% were very close to the person who died. Further, 37% say the death had significant and devastating effects that they still feel.

This research is important because it challenges the common misconception that suicide only affects a few people close to the deceased. It shows that the ripple effects are felt widely and throughout social networks, workplaces and families.  As mental health issues often worsen over time when people do not access mental health support, early intervention is crucial.

The research highlights that there can be a positive ripple of change. Let’s start with early intervention and a community effort.

See our post on three strategies to manage workplace mental health.

Male construction workers are at increased risk

Recent research published in BMC Public Health reveals male construction workers’ mental health is far worse than we thought. Workers in this industry have higher rates of death by suicide than other sectors.

Suicide and declining mental health for construction workers were found to be impacted by work and industry-related factors. These include:

  • job insecurity,
  • transient working conditions,
  • issues connected to business and financial management, and
  • fear of legal prosecution concerning debt and conduct at work.

These stressors have a significant impact on mental health. Importantly for this sector, these work-related risks help to reinforce cultural norms about masculinity that together increase the risk of suicide among construction workers.

Employment opportunities in the construction industry often fluctuate. Leading to a highly casualised workforce, who are dependent on available contracts for ongoing work. Job insecurity is a leading risk factor for poor mental health. The industry is also subject to transient and insecure working conditions.

The coronial data that the study examined revealed that the use of substances, and alcohol, and existing mental health issues, were key factors in the suicide of these workers. With the depressive effects that the use of substances and excessive alcohol can have on the mind, there is little wonder that workers’ mental health was negatively affected.

Male construction workers have significant feelings of pressure at work and concerns about debt. They also experience family breakdown or relationships that are under strain. Some relationships have ended in separation and divorce. There was also a lack of access to their children.

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Suicide prevention initiatives

The BMC Public Study suggests that there is a need for suicide prevention initiatives to take an industry-wide focus. We can address suicide at three levels:

  1. Primary level, to reduce risk factors for suicide and promote protective factors,
  2. Secondary level, to ensure people are supported and able to access help when they need it, and
  3. Tertiary level, to providing treatment for those at acute risk and rehabilitation back into work.

Stigma and fear are reasons behind a lack of help-seeking among males concerning mental health problems. Interestingly, it was colleagues at work that played an important supportive role in listening, advising and comforting the workers before they took their own lives.

This finding supports the idea of the potential for these people to act as ‘gatekeepers’.  Gatekeepers are people who can identify, provide support for, and connect those at risk of suicide with ongoing professional care. Utilising people in the workplace in a gatekeeping role would require equipping them with specific training in mental health first aid at the very least.

See our post on the effectiveness of mental health first aid training.

The Tap Into Safety Mental Health Training increases mental health literacy on workplace stressors to teach effective coping strategies. We have developed a training module around suicidal thoughts and self-harm that can be completed online, on tablets and mobile phones in under 5 minutes. The training is useful as part of an ongoing education programme.

Suicide prevention and growing a mentally healthy workplace is not solved in a one-sized fit all approach. Organisations need to offer a variety of solutions and activities to encourage people who need help, to reach out and do so as early as possible. If you would like to know more about our Mental Health Training, contact us and try a FREE online demo today.

To conclude

The number of successful suicide attempts is higher than ever. Job insecurity, transient working conditions, issues connected to business and financial management, and fear of legal prosecution concerning debt and conduct at work; all negatively affect mental health. The use of substances and alcohol also play a big part in leading to suicidal thoughts. Three levels of suicide prevention initiatives are recommended to break down stigma, encourage help-seeking, provide support and treatment. Colleagues at work play an important supportive role in listening, advising and comforting the workers before they took their own lives. Research is showing that early intervention and mental health support are key to preventing suicidal thoughts.

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