Is your job on the list? (Photo: Getty Images)
There’s a lesser-known occupational hazard associated with certain jobs, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine: suicide.
In the United States, suicide results in roughly 36,000 deaths per year — and became the leading cause of injury-related deaths back in 2009. Worldwide, that statistic is close to one million. There’s also been an uptick in workplace suicides recently, which is what the current research delves into.
Researchers examined the difference between workplace and non-workplace suicide rates in the United States between 2003 and 2010, based on numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injury database.
A look at the statistics: a little over 1,700 workers died as a result of workplace suicide over the eight-year span, which equated to a rough rate of 1.5 per million members of the workforce. Men were more than 15 times more likely to commit suicide in the workplace, and the 65-74 demographic saw a four times greater risk than the 16-24 set.
According to lead study author Hope M. Tiesman, Ph.D, an epidemiologist with the Division of Safety Research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the researchers discovered specific occupational fields also seem to bump the risk of workplace suicide.
“We found that those in protective service occupations, such as police and firefighters, had the highest workplace suicide rates, followed closely by those in farming, fishing and forestry occupations,”she tells Yahoo Health.
Although this analysis in particular did not look into specific reasons for the increased suicide rates among specific occupations, the authors delve into some prior research on “why”for each of the most at-risk groups in their paper.
“Other research has suggested that the increased suicide risk among specific occupations may be linked with the availability and access to lethal means, such as drugs for medical doctors and firearms for law enforcement officers,” Tiesman says. “Also, workplace stressors and economic factors have also been found to be linked with suicide in these occupations.”
Here’s what some of the study’s new statistics looked like, along with possible reasons for the higher rates based on past research, broken down by field:
Law enforcement officers = 5.3 per million
The workplace suicide numbers were 3.5 times greater for this specific group. Roughly 85 percent of the deaths involved firearms, according to the study, which indicates easy access to weapons may play a role in higher suicide rates. Stressful on-the-job situations also contribute to the inflated statistics among law-enforcement workers.
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations = 5.1 per million
Farming, in particular, is linked with higher rates of death by suicide, according to the authors. “Factors that may contribute to this risk include the potential for financial losses, chronic physical illness, social isolation, work/home imbalance, depression due to chronic pesticide exposure, and barriers and unwillingness to seek mental health treatment,” they write in their paper. “Farmers may also have a higher workplace suicide risk because of increased access to lethal means.”
Installation, maintenance, and repair = 3.3 per million
As a broad category, installation, maintenance and repair saw higher-than-average numbers, but one sub-group saw a notably high suicide rate at 7.1 deaths per million workers. “A novel finding was that those in automotive maintenance and repair occupations also had significantly higher workplace suicide rates,” Tiesman says. Limited past research suggests this may have something to do with the toxic effects of solvent exposure among auto workers, which has been linked to memory issues, depression, emotional instability, even brain damage. It’s unclear why every job with solvent exposure doesn’t necessarily have higher suicide rates.
Tiesman says these new numbers are important, because they continue to underline the issue of suicide in the U.S., even among those who are gainfully employed. “Occupation can define a person’s identity, and personal issues can creep into the workplace,”she says. “The lines between personal and work life are shrinking. We know that suicide is multifactorial in nature, and therefore need to take advantage of multiple opportunities to intervene in an individual’s life — including the workplace.”
Mental-health professionals and employers should take special note of those individuals working in professions at high-risk of suicide. “[They] could consider the workplace as a potential site for suicide-prevention purposes, especially among the occupations at highest risk for workplace suicide,” she says.
In addition, Tiesman hopes the current study will highlight how blurred the lines between work and home life have become. “Occupational safety and health professionals should recognize that non-work factors can and do contribute to safety and health issues on the job,”she says.
The study authors propose that approaching issues relating to work life, health and safety from a more comprehensive viewpoint may help professionals understand how to better address at-risk populations, and ultimately help reduce suicide statistics.