Listening, engaging, empathising: steps to reducing suicide in the hospitality industry

I want to talk about suicide. Specifically, I want to open a debate on how to help hospitality workers reaching the point of despair by offering practical and emotional support; and by propagating a culture across the industry in which people are able to talk about their darkest thoughts and, crucially, are listened to and spoken to sensitively and appropriately.

It’s been heartening to hear the industry talk more about mental health issues over the past few months. At HA, we’ve played our part. We were proud, for example, to work with The Caterer on their recent mental health awareness themed issue.

But, as an industry, we’re still losing far too many precious lives to suicide.

We live in a hectic and overwhelming world. For some people, this can spark feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and depression; and these in turn can set off a downward spiral of negative thinking.

People contemplate suicide for many reasons. According to the Samaritans, it’s often caused by an accumulation of difficulties that leave people feeling there is no way out. The kinds of difficulties that might increase the risk of suicide include relationship breakdown, painful or disabling illness, bereavement, bullying, loneliness and financial difficulties.

People with conditions such as severe depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be particularly vulnerable. There is also a very high correlation between suicide and substance abuse.

Add the particular stresses hospitality people encounter – pressure, adrenaline peaks and crashes, long hours – and you have a dangerous cocktail.

According to research from mental health charity, Mind, suicide rates are higher in men than in women across all age groups. Suicide is now the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.

Suicidal feelings are driven by the fear that you’ve reached the end of your resources. But with the right kind of support, resources can be restored and replenished, pain can be processed, and new ways to live life can be found.

In 2019, we’re determined to create a step-change in attitudes and prevention strategies across hospitality.

Suicidal behaviour is often described as a “cry for help”, as if it’s not to be taken seriously. But passing off talk of suicide as attention-seeking is dangerous. Anyone thinking or talking in these terms is in deep distress. If someone you know is talking like this, don’t be afraid of engaging with them. Talking about suicide with a sympathetic listener has never driven anyone to kill themselves.

But how? And how do we spot the signs, if someone isn’t actually talking about suicide?

The time has come to put strategies in place across the industry.

We’re not experts in this field, and there are many experts out there. We’ll seek their their expertise, then focus it through the lens of hospitality.

At this point, we’re looking for expressions of interest. Does this post resonate with you? I’m at mark@hospitalityaction.org.uk, or you’ll find me on Twitter (@marklewis32).

By collaborating on this important project, we can save lives.