Suicide is the leading cause of death by injury in the U.S., with more than 36,000 deaths annually.
Worldwide, death by suicide approaches an astounding one million deaths per year.
Now, a new study analyzes the upward trend of suicides that take place in the workplace and identifies specific occupations in which individuals are at higher risk.
As reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the highest workplace suicide rate is in protective services occupations (5.3 per one million), more than three times the national average of 1.5 per one 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, Ph.D., epidemiologist with the Division of Safety Research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
“A more comprehensive view of work life, public health, and work safety could enable a better understanding of suicide risk factors and how to address them. Suicide is a multifactorial outcome and therefore multiple opportunities to intervene in an individual’s life — including the workplace — should be considered.”
Given the escalation of workplace suicide, Tiesman believes educational programs and managerial training on the detection of suicidal behaviors should be implemented, especially among the high-risk occupations.
In the study, researchers compared workplace versus non-workplace suicides in the U.S. between 2003 and 2010, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injury (CFOI) database.
The number of workers within each occupation was determined from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey (CPS). Data on suicides outside the workplace were gathered from the CDC’s Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting Systems (WISQARS) database, which also contains census-based population counts.
Investigators discovered 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 one million).
Those in installation, maintenance and repair occupations also had high workplace suicide rates (3.3 per one million), while a subset of this category, workers specifically in automotive maintenance and repair occupations, had high workplace suicide rates (7.1 per one 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.
“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,” Tiesman said.