GRiD, RedArc and Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing urge employers to take action
Today's World Suicide Prevention Day comes just a week after the ONS reported that suicide rates in the UK reached a five-year high in 2018.
While a change in the coroners' standard of proof - from ‘beyond reasonable doubt' to the balance of probabilities' - could be contributing to the rising figures, statistics suggest that more young females under the age of 25 took their life last year and middle-aged men remain at most risk.
According to ONS, 6,507 suicides were registered last year, marking an almost 12% rise on the previous year and the highest rate since 2002
Whether or not the numbers are being skewed by reporting standards, what is clear is that the group risk and employee benefits industry, in particular, has a key role to play in assisting with the prevention of suicide through policies and support services provided by employers.
"Mental illness is a growing concern for employers with rising numbers of people suffering and taking their own lives," said Kim Horsfall, senior consultant at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing. "While many employers recognise that they have a responsibility to support the mental wellbeing of their employees, there is much more that can be done.
"The key is breaking the stigma around discussing mental illness and developing a culture where people feel comfortable seeking help. On World Suicide Prevention Day we want employers to consider how they can develop a mental health strategy that promotes open communication about mental health and check if they have support measures in place for people who feel they can't cope.
"As well as providing access to services such as counselling, mental health first aiders and employee assistance programmes (EAPs), employers could take advantage of technology. More companies for example are giving employees access to online GP services or using apps, like our recently launched Havensrock Thrive app, to offer specific mental health support."
Referring to the benefit of group income protection offerings, which include early intervention and mental health first aid and signposting, GRiD spokesperson Kathryn Moxham added: "It's important that we identify those opportunities and make those interventions. This might be outside the remit or expertise for many, but support is available within group risk products, and employers have the opportunity to save a life if they offer them and encourage their staff to use the help they provide."
According to GRiD, 1,851 people returned to work through mental health early interventions funded by group risk insurers during 2018, and 293 claims were paid for deaths by suicide.
"The numbers belie the reality. For every person struggling with their mental health, or who dies by suicide, there are many more affected: colleagues, family, friends," said Moxham. "And the group risk industry doesn't just support the individual with their mental health challenges, but also those around them: financially, following suicide; and/or emotionally - and that's a lifeline to help people get back on track. The subject may still be surrounded by taboo, but offering support should be commonplace. There's a real need to talk about suicide and to change perceptions, so that people see it as preventable and avoidable, and that everyone is able to support someone who is at risk."
Nurse service RedArc has used to World Suicide Prevention Day to dispel the long-held myth that talking about suicide makes it worse.
"Specially trained mental health professionals are obviously best positioned to support individuals who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, but that doesn't mean they are the only ones who can help," said Alison Simmons, senior mental health nurse adviser for RedArc. "It's understandable that a lot of people don't feel comfortable discussing suicide but if we can put our own discomfort to one side, there is absolute benefit in tackling the subject."
RedArc also drew attention to the fact insurers are offering alternative sources of help alongside charities and NHS services.
"Whilst insurance payouts are clearly crucial during difficult times in life, insurers now recognise that providing support for emotional wellbeing is equally important," said Simmons. "As well as helping people when they have reached crisis point, insurers are also aiming to deliver access to specialist third-party services at an earlier stage to potentially avoid a mental health condition deteriorating. This is often a combination of access to a dedicated medical mental health practitioner, counselling, therapies, online tools & apps, reading materials and a helping hand to navigate the NHS.
"Far too many families are still devastated by suicide, but everyone should know that help is out there. Professional support is becoming increasingly accessible via insurers but no-one should shy away from just offering a caring listening ear, as it can truly make the difference between life and death."
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