Skip to main content
Civil Service

Don’t despair – help is out there

Every week 125 people in the UK take their own lives, and 75% of all UK suicides are male. Judith Francis from the Civil Service Health and Wellbeing Team discusses how colleagues struggling with mental health crisis can be supported.

What would you do if a colleague told you they were in crisis, self-harming or feeling suicidal? How would you support a colleague returning to work following a suicide attempt?

During Mental Health Awareness Week, we wanted to highlight this issue and how we can all best assist colleagues who may be struggling to cope, as well as signposting to further support available.

If you’re worried that someone might be feeling suicidal, research suggests that you won’t put the idea of suicide into their head by asking them about it. Therefore, it is good practice to ask the individual directly if you think this may be the case.

Keep calm
The Samaritans advise that if someone confides in you that they are feeling suicidal, you should keep calm, don’t judge, listen, ask open questions, ensure the individual is safe and provide advice about where they can access appropriate support. 

If you think someone is in immediate danger call an ambulance on 999 and let them know the location of the individual.

Don't despair, help is out there

**Claire, a line manager from The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has shared her experience of supporting an employee returning to work after a suicide attempt. **Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

“Supporting someone who has attempted suicide, has been the most difficult situation I have had to navigate as a line manager. 

No one can prepare you for it. You’re worried you’re going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the individual. So, after facilitating a successful return to the workplace for my member of staff, here are my reflections.

  • Accept that this is going to be difficult and that  you won’t have all the answers.
  • If your organisation has an Employee Assistance Provider, use it. They will help you to frame your conversations with your employee.
  • It’s ok to talk about the suicide attempt with your employee.  Don’t shy away from having that conversation.
  • HR policies are guidelines. Situations don’t always fit neatly into the scenarios contained within policies.
  • Use your HR Complex Case Team if you have one. Their advice and support is invaluable; and finally make sure you get the support you need to protect your own wellbeing. 

I wish I had been able to speak to a line manager who had been through the same situation.  Due to confidentiality, it’s difficult to find out in an organisation if any of your peers have had the same experience. If anyone reading this is in the same position, I’m happy to be a sounding board for you.  Email: and they will pass your details onto me.”

To improve line manager support the Civil Service Health and Wellbeing Team have updated the Line Managers Guide to Mental Health. This now includes an expanded section about suicide, crisis and self-harm and provides managers with advice and signposting to further support, enabling a greater understanding of how to approach these difficult and sensitive situations.

The guide can be found here on the Learning Platform for Government. We encourage everyone to take a look at the refreshed guidance.

* Source: Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)

Internal sources of support

Employee Assistance Programme (EAP):  EAP services are available 24/7, 365 days a year. Contact details can be found on your departmental intranet site. They provide immediate telephone access to trained and qualified counsellors for individuals who are considered to be in crisis, for example threats of suicide.

Confidentiality is guaranteed. An EAP service will not inform line managers that employees are seeking help unless they give them permission to do so.

Mental Health First Aiders (or equivalent): Colleagues who are trained to listen, reassure and respond, help in a crisis, and will be able to signpost someone to the help they require. Details of MHFAs are available on departmental intranet sites.

External sources of support
Samaritans – Telephone 116 123

MIND Urgent Help Toolkit - support for men – 0800 585858 - support for people under 35 - 0800 0684141

Sharing and comments

Share this page

1 comment

  1. Comment by Shuhab Hamid posted on

    Thank you Judith, good blog. A subject hard to discuss. However, living with a long term MH lifestyle; i am regularly and used to being asked this question(s).

    Has to be done and has become a standard questions I must answer upon my reviews and during my challenging and testing moments. Had a quite a few of those during the last 12-18 months.

    Have also benefited for EAP and MHFA support from with my Command.

    All the best.