As part of its wider wellbeing and mental health framework PwC has developed clear support pathways for an employee to signpost someone to if they are concerned about that person’s welfare and they need expert help. They have also embedded clear practical steps in its guidance, so that an employee knows what action to take in different scenarios.  

Culture of openness

PwC is a company that firmly believes work should be a place where people feel able to talk about suicide. As Ben Higgin, head of technology and investments, says in his blog: ‘As a Mental Health Advocate at PwC and also a Samaritans listening volunteer, I know that these conversations aren’t easy; but if you want a culture that gives people permission to talk about what is going on in their life, then you have to be prepared to talk about anything – or better put, be available to listen to anything.’ 

‘Some of the main factors contributing to someone having suicidal thoughts may be nonwork-related but that’s not the point as it’s about the whole person,’ explains Sally Evans, PwC wellbeing lead. ‘It’s about raising awareness, fostering a culture enabling people to reach out at work and signposting to professional help.’ This doesn’t mean employees should be trained to act as counsellors, and employees are not there ‘to rescue’ someone experiencing suicide ideation: it’s about preparing people to listen if someone says they are having suicidal thoughts, and to help them access qualified support if appropriate. It’s important to remember that suicidal thoughts are relatively common and do not necessarily indicate intent. Also, talking about suicide compassionately does not increase risk, rather it lessens it.  

This means setting clear parameters for what an employee’s role should – and should not – be, as well as embedding clear guidelines for what action should be taken in certain situations, including a crisis. ‘Suicide is very complex and of course it can be very hard to know if someone is having suicidal thoughts unless they tell you – but the better we get to know our colleagues, the easier it can be to spot behavioural or verbal cues that could be warning signs, and it’s always better to err on the side of caution, such as not being afraid to dial 999 if the situation warrants it,’ says Sally.  

Part of the mental health conversation

PwC’s suicide prevention work is very much part of its wider wellbeing and mental health framework. PwC partnered with Samaritans and the Lord Mayor’s Appeal to develop the Wellbeing in the Workplace online learning tool. Free to all UK workplaces, the tool brings Samaritans’ listening and wellbeing expertise into the workplace, and teaches employees the skills to look after their emotional health and look out for others, before they reach crisis point.  

PwC has also helped to spearhead the ‘This Is Me’ campaign to challenge the stigma around mental health at work. Employees at PwC regularly share stories of lived mental ill health experience online, including several employees who have written about having suicidal thoughts and/or attempted suicide previously. ‘Some of the experiences are hard hitting but they have really helped to open up meaningful conversations about mental health as well as suicide,’ says Sally.

Support pathways

There are clear support pathways for an employee to signpost someone to if they are concerned about that person’s welfare and they need expert help. These include PwC’s employee assistance programme, which can provide direct access to psychological support for someone experiencing suicidal thoughts.  

PwC has also embedded clear practical steps in its guidance, so that an employee knows what action to take in different scenarios. These are set out in three levels with clear prompts to help the employee with appropriate signposting, along with contact details. They range from having a conversation to contacting a GP or A&E for a mental health crisis. In the guidance this is set out under three headings: 

  • Someone you are concerned about – suggests actions such as offering a supportive conversation and signposting to help, for instance if you recognise someone is struggling to focus or comes to you with a concern. 
  • Someone in acute distress – recognising a more serious concern and the need for more immediate help and/or consultation in the case of a colleague becoming agitated, behaving erratically or substance misuse.  
  • Someone with a mental health emergency – acting on a mental health crisis, knowing when direct action is needed due to a risk to health/life. This uses thinking actively about suicide as an example (differing from thoughts as the person would have plans, means or timeframe). The guidance indicates immediate action such as calling 999 or taking someone to A&E. 

In all cases the emphasis is on signposting to more expert support and further guidance emphasises the importance of keeping boundaries and not trying to ‘rescue’ ourselves. 

Building knowledge and skills

The organisation has developed a blend of training interventions to promote good mental health and foster a culture where people are not afraid to talk about suicide and seek help, which are designed across three levels: 

  1. Building awareness and understanding about mental health issues and suicide at a ‘foundation’ level across the workforce, for example through guidance and online resources. 
  2. Developing people’s skills and competence through appropriate training, so they have the confidence to have sensitive conversations with someone who may be struggling and/or having suicidal thoughts. For example, line managers and career coaches receive highly targeted awareness and skills-building courses from a range of mental health experts.
  3. Key roles are targeted for more in-depth training – for example, senior managers and HR professionals participate in training designed to give them the confidence to deal with more complex situations and conversations about mental health.  

The range of online learning resources and apps developed with Samaritans and implemented by PwC across its 22,000-strong workforce helps employees to improve their emotional wellbeing. The tools and training also enable colleagues to recognise emotional distress in others and reach out to someone who might be struggling to cope. The company aims for 100% workforce coverage at the foundation level, aimed at improving mental health literacy. It also has its own mental health first aid training instructor to deliver more in-depth internal training to employees.  

The work PwC has done, and continues to do, to promote good mental wellbeing and create a culture where people can seek help, including for suicidal thoughts, is making a real difference. ‘By breaking down the stigma and silence around suicide at work, more people will have the confidence to reach out for help – and this is why it is a workplace as well as a societal issue,’ says Sally.

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