More on HRM

How workplaces can help prevent suicide

In anticipation of Men’s Mental Health Week, Sydney Morning Herald journalist Alan Stokes opens up about his own mental health struggle and looks at how HR can equip their organisations to detect and respond to suicide.

A silent commute, a crowded lift, that meeting room full of smiling colleagues: they are the loneliest places on Earth for one in five employees. The struggles of people battling mental illness do not end when they push the floor elevator button to start another day of work.

I should know. I’ve been there, locked in my box 24/7 on the verge of taking my life.

Very few of us can recognise that person in the corner of the canteen putting on a brave face. Even fewer of us would know what to say if we did.

That often leaves HR to scramble for the Employee Assistance Program which may vary in the quality of service that it provides

Crisis support services such as Lifeline, Beyondblue and others do a great job in saving lives and easing pain for those who ask for assistance. Yet eight Australians every day still die from suicide. Pedro Diaz, CEO of the Mental Health Recovery Institute, told HRM magazine in April that about one in five Australians who died by suicide did so because of issues they were facing in the workplace. Add to that the staff who take the issues they’re having at home to work with them. And add to them the workers who are trying to support family and friends through their personal crises.

How can HR lead to a mental health strategy?

Businesses are first and foremost communities of human beings who are experts in life’s ups and downs. These survivors of depression, anxiety and suicide attempts have a knowledge base broader and deeper than most executives or HR managers. Yet we fail to empower these people to help their workmates.

A volunteer corps of peer supporters in the workplace could act as a first line of defence against mental illness and suicide.Lifeline is stepping up efforts to recruit more mental health heroes in the workplace – and to train others to become heroes too. But HR has an opportunity here to take a lead.

Lifeline’s strategy includes offering accidental counsellor training courses to individuals and especially to groups of staff and management in organisations of all types. The four-hour workshops draw on the expertise of Lifeline’s proven crisis handling skills to equip people to RECOGNISE when others are struggling, to RESPOND appropriately with confidence, and to REFER them to the best place for help. The Australian Human Resources Institute offers similar training through its “Mindfulness – Mental Health at Work” courses.

Mentoring programs are useful in the workplace, too, and can be readily adapted for Accidental Counselling. Technology is developing rapidly as well. The April issue of HRM explained how Uprise is combining technology and personal coaching to improve mental wellbeing at work.

There is no one solution to mental wellness in the workplace. But things are heading in the right direction. Here are some ways every HR manager can make a real difference:

  1. Seek executive support to develop a suicide prevention strategy in your organisation.
  2. Call for expressions of interest among staff to complete an Accidental Counsellor course. Chances are the mental health heroes in your organisation will apply.
  3. For organisations with existing workplace wellness programs, extend them to incorporate Accidental Counsellor and a set of refreshers to give your people the skills they need to remain happy and productive.
  4. Appoint those Accidental Counsellors as “Mental Wellness Wardens” across the business.
  5. Incorporate Accidental Counsellor training in every orientation program for new employees.
  6. Support efforts to develop world best practice in suicide prevention and support for sufferers of mental illness among your staff.


Alan Stokes is chief editorial writer and columnist at The Sydney Morning Herald. He is also a Lifeline telephone crisis supporter.

Mental health is a serious issue, anyone needing support can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, and beyondblue on 1300 224 636.


Leave a reply

  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Naila Awan
Naila Awan

Inspiring ways to care for many who are struggling in this battlefield and feeling alone. Considering the repercussions of negative thoughts, on mentally ill employees, their peers and the overall organisational capabilities, it seems like a good prevention platform (especially the idea of Accidental Counsellors) alongside the existing crises support services that are available outside workplaces. While it is important that the suicide prevention strategy should be incorporated right from the start and via training/orientation programs as the article suggests, I believe it would be also worthwhile if prevention strategies are imbedded in almost every other HR functions such as… Read more »

More on HRM