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The importance of suicide awareness at work

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Why is it important to talk about suicide at work?

  • 1 in 4 people are experiencing a mental health problem at any one time.

  • Suicide is the biggest killer for men under 45.

  • Anyone regardless of gender, age, or race, can feel suicidal.

  • Normalising conversations about mental health and suicide can help minimize the number of people who take their own life.

  • 135 people are affected by a single suicide, and those who’ve been affected are more likely to take their own life.

Talking about suicide won’t make someone more likely to take their own life

Let’s say that again: Talking about suicide won’t make someone more likely to take their own life. This is really important to understand because it’s a common myth that stops a lot of people starting important conversations. But talking about suicide, and even asking someone directly “Are you feeling suicidal?” can actually help that person feel seen and valued, and might just give them the permission they need to open up and ask for the help that will save their life.

Workplaces can help people feel ok about asking for help

Workplace culture can have a big impact on whether employees feel ok about talking about how they feel. Employers may be able to offer support and resources to people who are struggling and need extra support. Running mental health and suicide awareness campaigns shows an openness to talk about issues and a commitment to helping people. Normalising conversations about mental health and suicide at work makes it easier for people to speak up when they need help.

Workplace culture can have a big impact on whether employees feel ok about talking about how they feel.

Learn about the warning signs to watch out for at work

Many people spend huge chunks of their waking hours with their colleagues. These people are often well placed to notice warning signs and to intervene, or at least raise a concern.

Suicidal thoughts often stem from feelings of shame, hopelessness, and feeling trapped. If someone starts talking about feeling this way, or feeling like a bad person and not seeing solutions to problems, this could be a warning sign.

Keep an eye out for changes in normal behaviour. Avoid assumptions about what a suicidal person ‘behaves like’ and look at each person as an individual. For example, a quiet, calm person might become very loud and energetic, or vice versa. Engaging in more risky behaviours such as driving fast or drinking more could also be a sign that it’s time to ask that person how they’re feeling. Or even changes in they way they work, becoming more or less productive, eating differently, feeling more tired or wired.

Everyone is different so there is no ‘list’ of warning signs. The best way to find out how someone is feeling is to ask them. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so yet, you could speak to your colleague’s manager and ask them to have the conversation, just don’t do nothing.

It’s not attention seeking, it’s attention needing

People who are feeling suicidal need attention and support. You don’t have to be an expert or mental health professional to listen, but it’s good to know where to signpost people for extra, specialist support. You can signpost to:

  • Their GP.

  • Samaritans – call 116 123 any time for free, or email for a response within 24 hours.

  • If you think they’re in immediate danger of harming themself, call 999.

How can you raise awareness of suicide at work?

  • Lead by example and make it normal to check in with people. Ask your colleagues “how are you” regularly in a way that lets them respond honestly (e.g. when you’re on your own and have some time to chat).

  • Talk about your own feelings so that other people see that it’s ok to do so. Choose a time and situation that feels ok for you – you don’t have to put yourself on the spot if you don’t feel comfortable.

  • Talk to your colleagues about each other’s behaviour signals. What does “ok”, “struggling”, and “not ok” look like for each of you? E.g., Do you talk more or less, do you sign off your emails differently, do you eat or drink different things, or restart old unhelpful habits. You’ll be better equipped to look out for each other.

  • Ask your manager or HR team about running an awareness campaign. Offer to help if you have capacity, and – if you feel up to it, consider sharing your own experiences with mental health.

  • Educate yourself about suicide so you feel more confident talking about it. There are lots of free resources online including courses, webinars, articles and toolkits. You could share them with your colleagues too and encourage them to learn more.

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