Workplace SuicidePosted on by
The research literature on occupation and suicide has consistently identified several occupations at high risk for suicide: farmers, medical doctors, law enforcement officers, and soldiers. However, there are few studies examining suicides that occur in U.S. workplaces. Recently published research from NIOSH, examined suicides occurring in U.S. workplaces between 2003 and 2010 and compared workplace suicide trends to suicides occurring outside of the workplace using nationally representative data sources. [i]
NIOSH researchers examined data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injury database. Between 2003 and 2010, a total of 1,719 people died by suicide in the workplace. During the study period, 270,500 people died by suicide outside of the workplace. Across the 8-year time frame, workplace suicide rates remained relatively stable, even decreasing somewhat until 2007 when a large and significant jump in rates was found. This was in contrast with non-workplace suicide rates which increased over the entire study period. Men had significantly higher workplace suicide rates compared to women (2.7 per 1,000,000 and 0.2 per 1,000,000) and generally, as age increased, so did workplace suicide rates. Those aged between 65 and 74 years had the highest suicide rate of all workers (2.4 per 1,000,000), making them 3.7 times more likely than workers aged 16-24 to commit workplace suicide. Comparatively, non-workplace suicide rates were highest among those aged 45-54. Overall, firearms were used in 48% of workplace suicides, but this differed by occupation.
Using the major occupational groupings-the three occupations with the largest workplace suicide rate were protective service occupations (i.e. police officers and fire-fighters) at 5.3 per 1,000,000 workers, farming/fishing/and forestry occupations with 5.1 per 1,000,000, and installation, maintenance, and repair occupations (i.e. auto mechanics) at 3.3 per 1,000,000. Another way to look at this is that the workplace suicide rate for protective service occupations was 3.5 times greater than the overall U.S. worker. Those working in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations were 3.4 times more likely than the workers in general to commit workplace suicide. Those working in installation, maintenance and repair occupations were 2.2 times more likely than workers in general to commit workplace suicide.
One thing to remember is that the suicides occurred while the individuals were at work, and they are categorized by the occupations in which the individuals worked. This does not necessarily mean that the cause of a given suicide was related to the job itself. When looking broadly at suicide by occupation, one hypothesis as to why specific occupations face an increased suicide risk is the availability of and access to lethal means, such as drugs for medical doctors and firearms for law enforcement officers. Additionally, workplace stressors and economic factors have been linked with suicide in high risk occupations. When considering why an individual may commit suicide in the workplace, one possibility is to protect family and friends from discovering the deceased individual in a home environment. Also, recent literature has shown that the 2008 global economic crisis is linked with increased suicide rates in European and North American countries. This study also found a large increase in workplace suicide rates starting in 2007.
What can we do with this information?
The lines between personal and work life are shrinking. Mental health providers should be aware of the impact that occupation can have on an individual’s risk for suicide, especially among the high risk occupations highlighted here. Additionally, mental health professionals who work in the area of prevention could consider the workplace as a potential site for suicide prevention efforts – especially among the occupations at highest risk. Finally, occupational safety and health professionals should recognize that non-work factors can and do contribute to safety and health issues on the job.
More research is needed to better understand issues impacting suicide in the workplace. NIOSH is forming partnerships with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the National Institute of Mental Health to explore future research interests and opportunities.
Hope M. Tiesman, PhD and Srinivas Konda, MPH
Dr. Tiesman is a research epidemiologist in the NIOSH Division of Safety Research.
Mr. Konda is an associate service fellow in the NIOSH Division of Safety Research.
[i] Tiesman, HM, et al. Suicide in U.S Workplaces, 2003–2010: A Comparison with Non-Workplace Suicides. Am J Prev Med. (Published Online: March 16, 2015). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2014.12.011