Suicide: Why creditors must implement policies sooner

Suicide: Why creditors must implement policies sooner

Dealing with a customer considering suicide can be daunting even for the most experienced of staff members. 

Sometimes a customer’s thoughts about suicide are disclosed, sometimes they can be gleaned from the conversation, other times they remain unknown. 

In my latest research with the Personal Finance Research Centre at the University of Bristol, co-authored with Colin Trend and Jamie Evans, we surveyed 1,573 creditor staff on their experiences supporting customers in vulnerable circumstances. A staggering one in four frontline staff reported that they had spoken to at least one customer in the last 12 months who they seriously believed might kill themselves. 

Despite this high number, 37 percent of frontline staff reported that they had not received sufficient training on dealing with suicidal customers, whilst 18 percent felt their organisation did not have a clear policy on how to respond to suicidal customers. 

As a consequence, 25 percent of all frontline staff reported that they were unsure what to do when responding to these situations.

When a clear and well communicated suicide policy exists, staff are more able to keep the customer safe, either by referring to specialist help or by careful listening to understand more. When such a policy is absent, incomplete or even unknown, staff are unsure what to say. This can lead to staff feeling awkward, unprepared or even fearful about holding even the shortest conversations with suicidal customers for fear of saying the wrong thing. 

What should creditors do? 

An effective suicide policy involves more than knowing a helpline number. 

Our latest research maps out five steps that creditors can take, through the BLAKE protocol:

  • Breathe (to focus): It can be hard to hear a disclosure of suicide. Take a moment and acknowledge them, by saying something such as: “I’m so sorry to hear you feel that way. How can we help?”
  • Listen (to understand): Always take what a customer has shared seriously. Listen carefully, is there imminent risk of harm?
  • Ask (to discover): “What has led to these feelings?”, “Have you received any help?”, or ask them directly: “Do you have a plan?”, “Where are you now?” and “Are you alone (is there anyone there who can help?)”
  • Keep safe (from harm): Contact emergency services if someone is at risk of harm. Express concern: “I’m worried about what you’ve told me – what can we do to help and keep you safe?”
  • End (with summary): Make notes. “Before we finish let’s recap and talk about what’s next…” 

The purpose of BLAKE is not to remove the involvement of colleagues or specialist referral. Staff can refer internally or externally at any point during the protocol. BLAKE instead aims to provide staff the core skills to handle the situation for as long as is required.  

All creditors should ensure that their vulnerability policies take suicidal customers into account – the sooner, the better. 

For more information on the Money Advice Trust’s training for supporting customers in all types of vulnerable circumstances, including those considering suicide, visit www.moneyadvicetrust.org/vulnerability