February 1, 2012

PAMELA DUNCAN

GUIDELINES ON how employers should respond to suicide appropriately and sensitively are to be launched today.

Breaking the Silence in the Workplace is a joint publication by Console and the Irish Hospice Foundation and includes information on how people are affected by suicide and their short-term and long-term needs. It gives guidelines for managers on how to support an employee who has been bereaved by suicide and addresses frequently asked questions. It also offers a sample bereavement policy.

Ciarán Austin, director of services with Console and co-author of the report, said the guidelines were developed in response to an increase in inquiries from employers.

“Over the last few years both Console and the Irish Hospice Foundation have had more and more employers come forward looking for support in the aftermath of a suicide, so really the guidelines reflect that demand,” he said.

Mr Austin said suicide was a “loss like no other”, adding that it brought with it a complex range of issues. He said the guide aimed to take away the fear which people have in dealing with those who have been bereaved by suicide.

Co-author Breffni McGuinness, training and development officer with the Irish Hospice Foundation, said the guidelines would provide a framework that people in the workplace could use to approach the issue.

“The one thing to avoid is avoiding the subject,” he said, adding that the guidelines aimed to give people the language with which to appropriately approach the topic of suicide.

“Don’t be afraid of dealing with suicide at work. Don’t be afraid of approaching somebody who has been bereaved by suicide and take your lead from that person. At least by opening up communication with the person, you give them the choice about whether they want to talk about it or not.”

He said he would like to see every company, school and organisation develop a policy which deals with bereavement through suicide.

The guide deals with the four main suicide-bereavement situations which can occur in the workplace: when an employee dies by suicide in the workplace; when an employee dies by suicide elsewhere; when an employee is affected by the death of a person close to them; and when a former employee dies by suicide. It says people are not expected to know everything about how to respond and should seek the advice of organisations that are experienced in dealing with these issues.

When dealing with employees who have been bereaved by the suicide of someone close, outside the workplace, the guide notes that grieving can be thought of as both a sprint and a marathon. It advises that, in the short term, it is helpful to communicate directly with the person about what information they want to share with colleagues and to assure them that their immediate work can be covered and that they can focus on their needs and those of their family.

It advises employers to make reasonable allowances for a person’s performance in the weeks and months after the death and to be sensitive to issues surrounding the subsequent inquest and the first and second anniversaries of the death of their loved one.

Copies of the guide can be downloaded from console.ieor hospice-foundation.ieor by contacting the Irish Hospice Foundation on 01-6793188 or Console on 01-6102638. Those who have been affected by suicide or who are concerned about a loved one can contact Console at 1800 201890 or at the website above.

GUIDELINES: BEREAVEMENT SUPPORT

When supporting someone bereaved through suicide:

Take time to listen and understand.

Ask what you can do that would help.

Be yourself and communicate naturally.

Ask the person if he/she would like to talk about it.

Know what expert supports and services are available elsewhere.

If you don’t know what to say, explain that you don’t know what to say.

Don’t avoid the person or allow awkwardness to prevent you offering support.

Avoid offering too much opinion or speculation.

Don’t avoid talking about the person who has died.

Never assume you know how the person is feeling.

Avoid cliches such as “there is a reason for everything”, “time is a great healer” or “they must be at peace now”.

Try not to attempt to find reasons for, or pass judgment on, their loss.

Don’t ask how they are, unless you have time to listen.

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