Published On: Thu, Mar 19th, 2015

Work at Home! Study Shows Workplace Suicide on the Rise

New comparison of workplace vs. non-workplace suicides reveals important differences, according to American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Workplace Suicide

Suicide is responsible for more than 36, 000 deaths in the United States and nearly 1 million deaths worldwide annually.

In 2009, suicides surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death by injury in the U.S. A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine analyzes the upward trend of suicides that take place in the workplace and identifies specific occupations in which individuals are at higher risk. The highest workplace suicide rate is in protective services occupations (5.3 per 1 million), more than three times the national average of 1.5 per 1 million.

“Occupation can largely define a person’s identity, and psychological risk factors for suicide, such as depression and stress, can be affected by the workplace, ” commented lead investigator Hope M. Tiesman, PhD, epidemiologist with the Division of Safety Research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Slightly more than 1, 700 people died by suicide in the workplace during this period, for an overall rate of 1.5 per 1, 000, 000 workers. In the same period, 270, 500 people died by suicide outside of the workplace, for an overall rate of 144.1 per 1, 000, 000 people. Examining the data across occupational lines, researchers found that workplace suicides were 15 times higher for men than for women and almost four times higher for workers aged 65-74 than for workers 16-24.

Several occupations have consistently been identified to be at high risk for suicide: law enforcement officers, farmers, medical doctors, and soldiers. The researchers noted that one hypothesis that may explain the increased suicide risk among specific occupations is the availability and access to lethal means, such as drugs for medical doctors and firearms for law enforcement officers. Workplace stressors and economic factors have also been found to be linked with suicide in these occupations.

Following protective services workers, among whom are firefighters and law enforcement, individuals working in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations had the second highest suicide rate (5.1 per 1 million). Those in Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations also had high workplace suicide rates (3.3 per 1 million), while a subset of this category, workers specifically in automotive maintenance and repair occupations, had high workplace suicide rates (7.1 per 1 million), which is a relatively new finding.

Although a subject of major concern, suicide within the military was excluded from this analysis because the primary data sources used for the study did not include statistics on military personnel. In addition, deaths tracked by the Department of Defense (DoD) or Veterans Affairs (VA) databases are reported differently than the CFOI.

“This upward trend of suicides in the workplace underscores the need for additional research to understand occupation-specific risk factors and develop evidence-based programs that can be implemented in the workplace, ” concluded Dr. Tiesman.

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