Suicide prevention and postvention

Information on the impact of suicide and how employers can best support their staff through preventative and postventative measures.

10 October 2023

This web page provides information on the impact of suicide and how employers can best support their staff through preventative and postventative measures.

The impact of suicide

Rates of deaths by suicide are climbing across the world:

Suicide does not discriminate, it affects our NHS staff:

  • Some healthcare professions are at a higher risk of suicide than other professional groups.
  • One in four emergency services workers and volunteers have experienced thoughts of suicide due to work-related stress or poor mental health.
  • Female healthcare workers have a 24 per cent higher risk of suicide than the female national average.
  • Female doctors and nurses are more likely to take their own lives than their male counterparts.

According to Champion Health, the current cost of living crisis has increased financial pressures on staff, and employees experiencing financial stress have been found to be twice as likely to experience thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

Suicide is preventable and employers play a crucial role in suicide prevention. People in work spend about one third of their lives at their place of employment. Colleagues and line managers can provide an important social and emotional support network, built on shared experiences.

In 2022, the Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC) published their work-related suicide evidence reviewWHEC's reports cover evidence reviews and position papers, giving their independent expert opinion on key topics for workplace health.  

Suicide prevention guidance

Employers have a crucial role to play in suicide prevention. It is vital employers have a strong suicide prevention strategy which supports the health and wellbeing of staff. Being compassionate leaders and creating a psychologically safe space is also crucial in supporting colleagues to bring their whole selves to work without the risk of stigma around this issue.

NHS England has developed a toolkit to help NHS organisations reduce the risk of suicide among staff. The working together to prevent suicide in the NHS workforce toolkit, published in September 2023, is designed to help organisations embed suicide prevention strategies into their health and wellbeing policies and offer guidance around supporting those at risk of suicide.

Suicide postvention guidance

Alongside a strong organisational suicide prevention strategy, it is vital that employers include a suicide postvention strategy into their management of the crisis, supporting those staff affected by suicide and experiencing trauma, as well as those experiencing bereavement due to death by suicide of a colleague or loved one.

New suicide postvention guidance developed by the University of Surrey uses insight and testimonials from NHS staff affected by colleague suicide as well as those who have provided support to staff affected by suicide. The guidance is intended for everyone who works in the NHS but is also targeted towards NHS executive leaders, decision makers and policymakers. It was launched on 25 July 2023, with a recording of the launch event now available.

The NHS Confederation, NHS Employers, NHS England and Samaritans have also recently developed a dedicated postvention toolkit. This practical resource is aimed at helping NHS organisations develop a process for managing the impact of employee suicide on colleagues and is particularly useful for staff working in human resources, occupational health and health and wellbeing.

How can organisations address the issue?

Mental health champions

By implementing mental health champions into your organisation, you can ensure there is a first line of support and signposting available for your staff. Having a supportive conversation at the right time can often prevent a tragic loss. Ensuring that the knowledge and experience of your champions are up to date and they are confident to face potentially difficult scenarios can help ensure an effective service. Raise their profiles by embedding them into the employee induction process and enabling them to take part in staff network conversations, it's important that staff are aware of who they can contact if they need support.

Upskill your line managers

Ensure your line managers have the right training and skills to spot signs of suicidal thoughts and effectively signpost to appropriate avenues. Read about how you can upskill your managers to support the mental health of your staff. Encouraging compassionate leadership can help staff open up and beat the stigma around mental health conversations at work.

World Suicide Prevention Day

Every year on 10 September, the world comes together to raise awareness of suicide and highlight the actions we can take to try and prevent deaths by suicide. You can find out more about the day and how your organisation can support and get involved on the Samaritans website

    • Bereavement support line – NHS staff have access to a confidential bereavement support line, operated by Hospice UK and free to access from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, where they can speak to a fully qualified and trained bereavement specialist. Call 0300 303 4434.
    • Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men, call 0800 58 58 58 from 5pm to midnight everyday or visit the webchat page.
    • Papyrus – for people under 35, call HOPELINE247 on 0800 068 41 41. Lines are open 24 hours every day of the year.
    • Samaritans – for everyone, call the 24-hour helpline 116 123. 
    • Nurse Lifeline - Free peer-to-peer listening service for nurses and midwives.
    • Worried about someone else? See the Samaritan’s tips on how to support someone you’re worried about and Rethink’s advice on how to support someone with suicidal thoughts.
    • Stay alive app – NHS and social care staff have free access to the Stay Alive app, which aims to provide help for people with existing mental health concerns, suicidal thoughts, and those struggling in self-isolation. It provides information to help colleagues stay safe, including advice for people concerned about someone else who may be considering suicide.
    • Support after suicide partnership- ‘Help is at hand’ is a resource for people bereaved through suicide or other unexplained death, and for those helping them. 
    • Survivors of bereavement by suicide offers information of suicide postvention and supporting the bereaved.
  • Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust

    The trust aims to train around 200 mental health first aiders (approximately 10 per cent of the workforce), as they feel that this training best fits the model of a community trust. Community trust team members often work in small teams at multiple different locations and can go for long periods of time without direct contact with colleagues. Mental health first aid will enable the organisation to offer wide-reaching cover across its many locations, for those who may be experiencing mental health concerns including initial support for those who may be thinking about taking their own life.

    University Hospitals of Northamptonshire NHS Group

    The group comprises of Northampton General Hospital (NGH) and Kettering General Hospital (KGH), and they developed a suicide risk awareness campaign aimed at all staff. The campaign empowers staff to start a conversation and offer support when they see someone struggling.