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When business is not usual

Our Vulnerability Lead Consultant, Chris Fitch discusses suicide intervention in essential services

Chris Fitch

Vulnerability Lead Consultant at Money Advice Trust

Posted September 10, 2021

On World Suicide Prevention Day, Money Advice Trust Vulnerability Lead Consultant, Chris Fitch discusses suicide intervention within essential services, supporting staff on how to keep customers and themselves safe and creating hope through action.

Not every customer conversation can be ‘business as usual’.

Some will be more difficult. Some will be more personal. And some will involve suicide.

Each year

Each year, it is estimated that 100,000 people in financial difficulty in the UK will attempt to kill themselves.

Each year, research shows that one in four frontline staff will receive at least one customer disclosure of suicide.

So, on World Suicide Prevention Day, think about the year ahead:

  • When this happens in your organisation, will your staff know what to do?
  • Will they be able to keep the customer safe?
  • And can they keep themselves safe while doing this?

Hope through action

Even for the most experienced staff member, being told a customer is thinking of suicide can be daunting.

Staff can often feel:

  • awkward, unprepared, and fearful about these conversations
  • anxious about saying the ‘wrong thing’ and its impact on what a customer might do next
  • unprepared about exactly how (and when) to involve colleagues and external helping services.

However, with clear thinking and planning, staff can also take small actions that can help a customer get through the darkest of moments, stay safe, and give them hope of a different way forward.

Essential services, vital intervention

Many people working in essential services - financial services, energy, water and telecommunication firms – will have encountered customers who say they want to kill themselves, or who are thinking about this.

Knowing what to do in these situations – and being ready to take simple actions – is key.

We have already shared evidence-informed guidance and policy on taking such actions which you can read here.

And our ongoing partnership with the Centre for Suicide Prevention and Training ensures we continue to provide support that is built around the way essential services work, and the specific challenges they face.

What can I do?

Your firm can help by:

  • preparing staff to take the right action
  • reviewing the way in which a customer disclosure of suicide is handled by staff in the moment, followed-up sensitively by colleagues afterwards, and learnt from organisationally
  • remembering that connecting with customers in these situations, and giving them hope, is vital. Your staff do not need to become counsellors to do this, but need to listen and take small actions.

Our very own panel of vulnerability experts have also shared their views on what essential services can do to help vulnerable customers with thoughts of suicide to stay safe, and to stay alive which you can listen to here as part of our Vulnerability Matters podcast series.

Each year, around 6,000 people in the UK and Republic of Ireland intentionally take their own life by suicide. However, a much larger number did not die by suicide because someone took action to prevent this.

So, this World Suicide Prevention Day, consider those situations where ‘business is not usual’, where customers are considering suicide, and take the steps needed to keep everyone safe.

You can find out more about our partnership with the Centre for Suicide Prevention here.

Chris Fitch

Vulnerability Lead Consultant at Money Advice Trust

Chris Fitch is the Money Advice Trust’s Vulnerability Lead Consultant and Research Fellow at the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre. View all posts from Chris Fitch.

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