By: Meghan Lawrence

A new training programme being piloted by Lifeline and Lion New Zealand is looking to reduce suicide rates by providing businesses with better support systems.

The Zero Suicide Workplace programme, launched today, aims to help businesses advance their employee health and wellbeing approaches by building resilience among employees and equipping them with specific suicide awareness and prevention skills.

Glenda Schnell, executive director at Lifeline, said it makes sense to open up communication channels and support networks in the places New Zealanders spend most of their waking lives – at work.

The programme will give companies a structure to respond to any mental health crises that arise at work and try to prevent suicide.

“This is ultimately about prevention and the aim is to equip everyday Kiwis with the skills to recognise distress, know how to ask brave questions and what to do with the answers,” she said.

“These skills are taken home to whanau, friends and the community to effect a wider social change in wellbeing and suicide prevention.”

Provisional suicide figures released in August show that 46 per cent of those that ended their lives were in employment.

Likewise, Lifeline data reveals that callers who are actively planning suicide are twice as likely to be suffering from workplace stress than callers who are assessed as low risk for suicide.

Glenda Schnell, Lifeline Executive Director. Photo / Supplied

Schnell said Lion was chosen to pilot the programme as they already have a well-established employee mental health and wellbeing platform.

“They also employ around 1200 people in NZ – giving us the chance to trial the programme with a diverse and large workplace,” she said.

Andy Graves, Lion’s safety and wellbeing leader, said the company wanted to work on developing proactive skills and not just be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

As one of the country’s leading alcohol beverage companies, Graves said Lion was aware of the issues alcohol can present in terms of mental health, but the company wanted to do the right thing.

“We are an alcohol business but we know it is an issue and we know that people need support and understanding around mental wellbeing,” he said.

“There are so many things out there to give people advice when they are at the stage where they are really acute and feeling the pressure, but it’s about identifying those people before they get to that point and what tools and skills can we give them beforehand,” he said.

The programme includes an audit of wellness policies, an employee wellbeing survey, policy and process development, specialised training in wellness and suicide prevention to key staff and ongoing 24/7 support options available through the Lifeline helpline.

Schnell said there are two parts to the training – the first being around resilience and the second around suicide prevention and how to have a conversation with someone who is struggling.

“Very often it’s about looking for changes in behaviour and attitude – to know that a conversation needs to happen and people need to be supported.”

Charlotte Smelt, 27, is a Lion employee sharing her personal experience with suicide. Photo / NZ Herald

Graves said removing the stigma around suicide and mental wellbeing was massively important.

The pilot is expected to be fine-tuned over the next six months with a plan to extend the initiative nationwide to other businesses from March 2019.

With no government funding for Lifeline’s community helplines, this programme will also provide another revenue stream to ensure it can continue to operate.

Lion employee lost father to suicide

Charlotte Smelt, a Lion employee and Lifeline ambassador said the Zero Suicide Workplace programme was a huge step for people to be more honest and open about how they are feeling.

Smelt has taken the opportunity to open up about her own personal experiences with suicide in the hopes of encouraging others to speak out.

“About 6-1/2 years ago I actually lost my dad to suicide. Obviously that is not something you wish upon anybody.

“I was quite young at the time, 21, but was really lucky that I had loads of really great people around me such as friends, family and work colleagues,” she said.

“You kind of don’t really realise until you are going through something like that how close you become to your workmates and how you lean on them quite a lot for support.

“I was quite lucky in that regard that they were there when I needed them because they were the people that saw me the most throughout that time.”

Smelt said it was not just the immediate support that mattered, but also having people there for her in the months and years following.

“It’s the little things like that you don’t think about how it will impact you until it happens; like making sure I wasn’t by myself a lot … helping out with fixing my car or getting me out of the house.”

Smelt said she felt proud to work for a company that was treating mental health so seriously.

“Having been through it personally, they already do so much so this is only going to help further.

“My dad suffered from mental health issues and I think if even myself or my family and people around us had known how to support him with that, we could have maybe helped him and saved his life.”

For more information about the Zero Suicide Workplace programme, go to email

Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Samaritans: 0800 726 666
• If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

Source: NZ Herald


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