There is an upward trend of suicides that take place in the workplace, with firefighters and police officers facing the highest risk, according to a new study.
In the United States, slightly more than 1,700 people died by suicide in the workplace between 2003-10. (About 270,500 people died by suicide outside of the workplace during that same time period.) Workplace suicides are 15 times higher for men than for women and almost four times higher for workers aged 65 to 74 than for workers 16 to 24, found the study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
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.
“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 Tiesman, epidemiologist in the safety research division of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). "Suicide is a multifactorial outcome and therefore multiple opportunities to intervene in an individual’s life — including the workplace — should be considered."
Managers should be trained in the detection of suicidal behaviour, especially among the high-risk occupations, said Tiesman. As well, all employees need to have a better understanding of suicide risk factors and how to address them.
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. Those in installation, maintenance and repair occupations also had high workplace suicide rates, while a subset of this category, workers specifically in automotive maintenance and repair occupations, had high workplace suicide rates, which researchers said is a relatively new finding.
“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,” said Tiesman.
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.
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