08 September 2021

World Suicide Prevention Day: overseas employees in need of support

World Suicide Prevention Day takes place on 10 September 2021. Overseas employees face very specific challenges that can differ depending on their host nation. Employers must be aware of the support, or lack of it, available in different countries and ensure their provision leaves no gaps.

Sarah Dennis, Head of International at Towergate Health & Protection says: “Suicides are preventable and it’s important that employers with overseas staff in particular ensure they have a strong understanding of the issues. They are in a position of responsibility and can put in place measures to promote the good mental health of employees. The theme for World Suicide Prevention Day this year is ‘creating hope through action’, and we are asking employers to act now.”

Global facts

  • World Health Organisation statistics1 show that 700,000 people die by suicide every year.
  • Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan, and in 15- to 29-year-olds globally, it is the fourth leading cause of death.
  • Over 77% of the world’s suicides occur in low to middle-income countries.

Specific challenges for overseas employees

It is important for employers to understand the specific challenges that overseas staff face.

  • Isolation

Employees abroad may have feelings of isolation and lack of support. This can be exacerbated by unfamiliar surroundings and new customs. They may feel they have no one to turn to, particularly if their head office and HR department are back in the UK.

  • Pressure

If the role does not work out, employees with overseas assignments may be particularly hard on themselves. This often stems from the idea that working abroad should be a great opportunity. They may think they have let people down and have feelings of failure.

  • Work/life balance

The average number of weekly hours worked varies from 37.2 in Denmark to 49.8 in Columbia2. Employees expecting to have a better lifestyle in a new country may be surprised by the extra hours they have to work and this can take its toll both physically and mentally.

Making help available

Early intervention is crucial. Employees should be made aware of support before they need it.

  • Local knowledge

Health and wellbeing experts with local knowledge can be vital in ensuring overseas staff are aware of a country’s resources.

  • Experienced support

It can be helpful for employees to be able to talk to someone who has experienced working abroad themselves and understands the specific challenges.

  • Keep communicating

Companies should foster an environment where colleagues feel comfortable talking about their problems, especially in areas where the culture may be less open about mental health issues.

  • Virtual assistance

It is increasingly common for counselling and therapy sessions to be held online. Just being available online for colleagues can make a huge difference to someone feeling isolated.

  • Specific mental health support

Mental health training for managers, psychiatric support within health policies, and access to talking therapies can all be made available to staff both at home and abroad.

  • Employee assistance

Global employee assistance programmes (EAPs) offer staff confidential helplines 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With counsellors, legal and financial specialists, they can offer email and live chat, structured counselling online, face-to-face sessions or on the phone, and access to wellbeing portals.

Sarah Dennis concludes: “Help is available, and employers need to make sure access is easy and well communicated.”


1. Suicide (who.int)
2. Average Work Week By Country 2021 (worldpopulationreview.com)