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Suicide prevention at work

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

Suicide is the top cause of death for men under 50, and the number of cases of female suicide is rising. The average worker spends around 1/3 of their time at work, so it’s important to be aware of the signs and know what to do if a colleague is having suicidal thoughts.

The signs that someone may be feeling suicidal

Everyone is different, so there is no definitive list of signs or symptoms.

Some people may withdraw, become quiet, or have mood swings and irritability. They might talk about feeling hopeless or about committing suicide. You might notice a change in their productivity, their eating patterns, or that they’re using alcohol or drugs more than usual. They might be more tired than usual and find it difficult to concentrate.

Other people might not show any clear signs. They might laugh and joke and tell you they’re fine.

The best way to find out if someone is feeling suicidal is to talk to them.

Talking to someone you’re concerned about

It can be difficult to know how to have a conversation with someone who you think is struggling, but it’s better to do something than nothing.

Talking about suicide won’t make someone more likely to do it, but it might help prevent them if they are considering it.

  • Find a private space where you have time to talk and won’t be interrupted

  • Show you care by giving them your full attention

  • Ask open questions such as “How are you feeling today?” and follow up with question such as “Can you tell me more about that?”

  • Be patient – they might not feel ready to talk about it straight away. Wait for them to speak and give them plenty of opportunity without filling the silence yourself.

  • It’s a good idea to repeat the person’s key concerns back to them to check that you’ve understood them properly.

  • Encourage them to seek help – they can call the Samaritans 24/7, or if they’re happy for you to do so, you can pass on their details and the Samaritans will contact them directly. They can also speak to their GP.

  • If you think the person is in immediate danger, call 999

  • Remember to look after yourself as well – it can be difficult helping someone who is feeling suicidal. You don’t have to be suicidal to contact the Samaritans, and they can help you talk through how you’re feeling.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the Smaritans for free 24/7 on 116 123 from any phone. Or, if you'd prefer, email for a response within 24 hours.

Risk factors

One thing we do know is that there are certain groups who are at higher risk for suicide. These risk factors can change throughout a person’s lifetime, and aren’t a sign that someone will definitely be suicidal, nor that people who don’t fit this criteria can’t be suicidal. It just means that people with these risk factors are at a higher risk, so it’s still important to see people as individuals and look for changes in their usual behaviour.

Risk factors include:

  • Being male

  • Aged between 45 – 59

  • Suffered a recent bereavement

  • Being a member of the LGBT+ community

  • Being treated for a mental health illness in the last year

  • Lower socio-economic status

  • Dependence on alcohol or other substances

  • History of self-harm

  • Self-deprecating thoughts, over-thinking, and feelings of hopelessness and defeat


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Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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