08 September 2022

World Suicide Prevention Day – employers must take action for overseas staff

World suicide prevention day takes place on 10 September 2022. The theme of the day is creating hope through action. Employers are in the perfect position to really make a difference to the mental health and wellbeing of their staff - both to those in the UK but also, crucially, to employees overseas, who may have an even greater need for support. But to create hope, employers must first take action, says Towergate Health & Protection.

Sarah Dennis, Head of International at Towergate Health & Protection, explains: “Employers need to consider the mental health of all employees, but those posted abroad may be at extra risk and with less visibility, so need extra care and attention. It is vital therefore that employers look at where they can offer support.”

A global issue needs global support

As the day suggests, suicide is a worldwide issue and regional differences are evident when looking at suicide rates on a global scale. For example:

In Japan, men are twice as likely to die from suicide as women, particularly after a divorce or following redundancy.

In Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland the dark winters can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression and has been known to correlate with higher suicide rates.

Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death in China. Against the norm, most deaths from suicide in China are among women.

Cultural and behavioural impacts

Culture plays a significant part in rates of suicide, so it’s particularly important that employers with overseas staff are aware of the attitudes to mental health in different regions, and how this might affect what support they put in place and how they communicate it. Utilisation of support may need to be more actively encouraged in some regions, and the confidentiality aspect may need to be particularly emphasised.

Employers also need to consider times at which staff are more vulnerable and may need extra support, such as when employees are first posted abroad, when they have been away from home for a while, or when they return home and need to re-integrate. With an increase in short-term assignments expected after Covid, this may well bring greater risks with people struggling to settle.

Ensuring support

There are some key factors to consider when putting in place support. It must be:

1. Confidential
2. Accessible 24/7
3. Universal: available to all employees in all countries and at all career levels
4. Visible and well communicated

Accessing existing support

Support for employees is often built into benefits including healthcare and group risk protection. These may offer access to mental health assistance, including counselling, but also to a diverse range of services such as virtual GP access and debt management, all of which can help with the pressures employees may be under, domestically and abroad.

For those who do not have support in place, it is important that options are investigated, and support for mental health is made available.

Sarah Dennis says: “Suicide is preventable, and the message of creating hope through action is particularly significant for employers, who are in a position to really make a difference, especially to employees working overseas. We would encourage all employers to consider how they can make that difference.”

1. Suicide Rate by Country 2022 (worldpopulationreview.com)