Ask "R U OK?" on 12 September

By Marcela Slepica*
Tuesday, 03 September, 2019

Ask "R U OK?" on 12 September

Suicide in Australia is growing year on year, with a 9.1% increase from 2017 to 2018, and has become the leading cause of death among people 15–44 years (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018). Mental health issues are one of a number of causes that contribute to this worrying trend, with depression present in 43% of suicides between 2017 and 2018 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018).

Ahead of R U OK? Day on 12 September, we at AccessEAP are advising workplaces to focus on mental health issues, to normalise and have meaningful conversations to try to identify, help and avoid potential incidences of suicide. And while the day marks the starting point of communication within the workplace, it’s imperative to consider that a long-term commitment to suicide prevention is vital and should be instilled within every workplace.

Over the course of an adult’s life, they will spend up to 4821 days at work. This creates an opportunity for managers and HR leaders to start a dialogue with their staff who may be struggling to cope and to create an environment of acceptance and to normalise asking for help. Managers can ensure they are providing helpful information and the support structures which employees may need.

Construction workers feel a significant amount of pressure at work and that can seep into their personal lives. Whether it’s the lack of job security, tough work conditions or stressors connected to financial management and debt, the risk of declining mental health and suicide is higher than in the general population. Industry research has found that construction workers are six times more likely to die by suicide than through a workplace accident (MATES in Construction 2017). Taking this into account, it’s vital that we encourage workers to look out for the signs that could lead to suicide.

To ensure suicide prevention is a part of safety culture in the industry, employers can implement processes to encourage workforces to come together and support someone at risk of suicide.

Challenge managers to have a conversation

Managers are in a unique place to promote positive mental health at work, and also in a position of care to their staff members. For many people, going to the boss isn’t always the desirable option as they fear it’s inappropriate or they could even lose their job. Therefore, it’s a responsibility for managers to approach the person they may feel worried about and have a discussion on what can be done to help, including referring them to their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for confidential advice, if the company has one.

Explore a peer support Ambassador Programme

Consider introducing a scheme where a person within your team is trained and able to have a peer-to-peer conversation with other staff members regarding their mental health issues or concerns, encouraging them to seek help when needed.

Know when to take action

If an employee makes any reference to suicide or self-harm, ask them directly “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” Unless the answer is a direct and clear “No”, immediately escalate to an appropriate person. Your options may include:

  • A Manager/HR
  • EAP Provider Support Hotline
  • An existing support person, for example, their GP or family member
  • Emergency department for assessment or the police

*Marcela Slepica is Clinical Director at AccessEAP. Marcela has more than 20 years’ experience in providing psychological services across a range of industries including health, finance and human resources.

Top image credit: ©

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