Workplace suicides took a sharp upward turn in 2008, with workers in the protective services, such as police officers and firefighters, at greatest risk, a new study finds. Researchers say the findings point to the workplace as a prime location for reaching those at risk with potentially life-saving information and help.

According to the study, which was published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 1,719 people died by suicide in U.S. workplaces between 2003 and 2010, with an overall rate of 1.5 per 1 million workers. Workplace suicide rates had been on the decrease, but increased sharply in 2008 — between 2003 and 2007, such suicides ranged between 210 and 182 and then jumped to 247 in 2008. Comparatively, non-workplace suicides, which are a leading cause of injury and mortality in the U.S., continued a more gradual increase over the study period. The study also found that workplace suicides were 15 times higher for men than for women and about four times higher for workers ages 65 to 74 than for workers ages 16 to 24.

“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,” said lead study author Hope Tiesman, an epidemiologist with the Division of Safety Research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, in a news release. “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.”

To conduct the study, NIOSH researchers analyzed data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries database and the Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System.

The highest workplace suicide rate was found among those in the protective services, at 5.3 per 1 million workers, followed by workers in farming, fishing and forestry occupations, at 5.1 workplace suicides per 1 million workers. Workers in installation, maintenance and repair occupations experienced a workplace suicide rate of 3.3 per 1 million. Within the installation, maintenance and repair category, researchers uncovered a somewhat new and startling finding: workers in automotive maintenance and repair occupations had a workplace suicide rate of 7.1 per 1 million. Suicides among members of the armed forces were not included, as such statistics are not included in the databases used in this study.

Eighty-nine percent of workplace suicides occurred among white workers; however, people of unknown or “other” races experienced the highest workplace suicide rate at 2.1 per 1 million. Overall, racial minorities were at greater risk for workplace suicides compared to non-workplace suicides, the study found. Among all occupation groups, firearms were used in 48 percent of workplace suicides, with firearms involved in the great majority of workplace suicides within the protective services industry. Study authors Tiesman, Srinivas Konda, Dan Hartley, Cammie Chaumont Menendez, Marilyn Ridenour and Scott Hendricks write:

Contributing factors for the high suicide rate among protective service occupations include increased access to lethal means, shiftwork, and high-stress work experiences. Details concerning firearm ownership (service issued or privately owned) are not available in the (Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries), but prior research has shown that access to lethal means and socialization of officers to firearms may increase their suicide risk. …Another risk factor for suicide among protective service workers is the high-stress situations that are often part of their normal duties. Exposure to high-stress events can lead to negative mental health outcomes such as post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorders, and depression. Many protective service workers do not seek counseling for these issues because of the fear of being stigmatized.

Access to mental health care services was another contributor to workplace suicide risk cited in the study. For example, farmers and those working in the agricultural industry often reside in rural communities, many of which are home to health and mental health provider shortages. Within the installation, maintenance and repair industry, which has a comparatively high workplace suicide rate, the study authors cited previous research that has linked increased suicide risk among automotive workers to solvent exposure. Regular and long-term exposure to solvents can have serious neurological effects, such as memory impairment, irritability, depression, emotional instability and brain damage. However, the study noted that it’s not clear why workers in other occupations with frequent solvent exposure don’t experience similarly high suicide risks.

The study concluded that workplace-based suicide education and intervention programs could provide life-saving assistance: “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.

To read the full study, visit the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.

Comments

  1. #1 Simone van Niekerk
    March 30, 2015

    The suicide rates have increased but I was not aware that it increased by that much. If you think about it, the population of people is increasing so a increase in suicide rate is expected purely because there are more people on the Earth. We live in an era where life is moving so fast, it does not seem that you get a break which could be overwhelming sometimes and for some people suicide looks like the easiest option to “deal” with life. This option is very selfish because they do not think about the trauma they will cause the people that cares about them. If they found help, or even just told someone how they were feeling they would have seen the alternatives. There is a great mind in every person that should not be wasted by committing suicide.

  2. #2 Anel
    March 31, 2015

    It is sad to look at the number of people committing suicide, and distressing to consider the rate at which the number of suicides are increasing. It is also saddening to see that the highest workplace suicide rates are found in protective services, and that the people who protect us feel the need to kill themselves. It seems that we are not doing enough to protect our protectors in this way. It is also interesting to note that the second highest rates are found is occupations such as fishing and forestry, perhaps this is caused by the struggling economy.
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  3. #3 Lucian (u15191479)
    April 1, 2015

    People commit suicide when they feel that their lives have lost meaning and they kill themselves because they no longer see any value in leading a life of pain and suffering because they are haunted by the memories of their past experiences in their field and cannot come to terms with it, in terms of the suicides by people involved in protective services. I feel that the high suicide rate needs to be addressed as an issue and should be dealt with accordingly. For example, as mentioned in the text, education about work-based suicide can help because many people do not know how suicide rates can be related to various lines of work, and education can help people choose their careers wisely with regards to the stress and trauma levels involved in the particular field of work.

  4. #4 Alri Richter
    April 1, 2015

    As Simone van Niekerk mentioned the suicide rate will increase as the population increases purely because more people on earth cause more crime and more work for the protective forces and thus more stressful and traumatic experiences. This increase in suicide rate could be caused by the fact that most television programs do not illustrate most careers accurately and “sugarcoat” careers in the protective services as well as in medicine and law. These careers are mostly depicted as being glamorous which is not always a very realistic outlook and can influence young students and learners to make wrong decisions based on faulty information. This will ultimately lead to unhappiness in the workplace.

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  5. #5 Dimakatso Rantso
    April 1, 2015

    I am not surprised that suicide rates among workers of the protective services are particularly high. The kind of stress they are faced with on daily basis would be over whelming to any ordinary person. Another contributing factor to this statistic is they deem as “normal” to come across at work, murder, dead bodies and all the violence is enough to make anyone believe that death is the simplest and fastest way out of misery.
    People must not be ashamed of resolving their mental health issues and make use of mental health care services provided by their workplace.

  6. #6 Dimakatso
    April 2, 2015

    I am not surprised that it is workers in the protective services that have the highest suicide rates. Their kind of work is very stressful and demands a lot of emotional intelligence. They come across so much violence and death it may seem “normal” at some point for these workers to associate death as solution to suffering.
    People should not be ashamed to seek help for any mental health related issues and if such services are not provided for at the workplace, employees should make an effort to assist workers to find the help that they need.
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  7. #7 Charldon Viljoen, u14116562
    University of pretoria, South africa
    April 2, 2015

    These work places should really start considering hiring an on site psychologist for these work places, as well as making check ups with the psychologist a mandatory requirement. Fear of stigmatism should not be relevant then as they will have to go see the psychologist regardless of if they want to or do not want to. Looking at income group as well the majority of these suicides come from low to medium income groups so to speak. theoretically speaking increasing the average income of these workplace employees should also help keep the work force happy, obviously though in practice this my not be obtainable. I do personally feel however that careers such as law enforcement should receive higher income

  8. #8 Sam (15036198)
    Pretoria, South Africa
    April 2, 2015

    Suicide is a fairly difficult action to analyse, therefore finding connections between various aspects of life and suicide, such as this one, is very important in the development of preventative measures.
    I agree completely with Alri Richter about the fact that occupations glamourized by television contribute to this problem. Programs such as CSI provide an image of an investigators work that is far more glamorous and effective than real life could ever be. The frustration of taking years to solve a murder in less than ideal working conditions in contrast to the up-to-date technology used to solve a murder in the space of a one hour episode could lead to great disappointment followed by a sense of worthlessness leading to suicide.
    I find it very interesting that work place suicides are four times higher for workers ages 65 to 74 than for workers ages 16 to 24. Why would this be? Could it have to do with that fact that 65-74 is around retiring age and people realise that they have not accomplished what they had hoped to? It is also possible that at this age people realise that they not only do not have enough money to retire but are also too old to carry on with a well-paying job. This realisation could very well lead to suicide as the person could feel that they have no other options.
    I think Anel was correct when she linked high rates of suicide in occupations such as fishing and forestry to the struggling economy. I grew up on a beef farm in Kwa-Zulu Natal and have therefore been exposed to the lifestyle of many workers in a variety of occupations in the primary sector. Not only is the labour hard, but farmers here are not supported by the government through subsidies. This means that the farmers themselves struggle financially and are forced to pay their employees low wages. A combination of financial insecurity as well as lack of promotion opportunities may contribute to the suicide rates.

  9. #9 Kelly
    April 3, 2015

    I agree that it can be linked to a struggling economy. People get to a point were all there hard work is not rewarded and they are unable to cope.

  10. #10 Jean
    April 3, 2015

    Suicide is becoming a very relevant problem in society and specific attention should be paid to the psychological disorders such as depression that often lead to suicidal thoughts. In jobs where suicide rates are high screening should be done to detect these disorders and provide the necessary support.

  11. #11 An-zelle Lubbe u15195253
    South Africa
    April 4, 2015

    This research intrigues me, as it is very interesting to know about these suicides in different careers facts. It would however have been very interesting to have had a look at the statistics of the army (armed forces) as part of this research? After all, it is accepted that the armed forces or army is under the same amount of pressure as the police officers, if not more. As mentioned in this article, almost 50% of all workplace suicides involved firearms. It would be only fair to presume that the rate of suicide in the armed forces would be at least the same or higher than that of the police. This leaves one with the impression that it is not necessarily about the stress levels relating to specific occupations, but rather the accessibility to the means to end your life, i.e. firearms. For example, a scientist that works in a laboratory with chemicals will commit suicide using his available sources, such as poison. Another example is the French pilot that flew into a mountain side only last week. Although he seemingly committed suicide, it now became apparent that the signs of his mental instability / depression have been known for quite some time to people close to him. His accessibility to means to commit suicide available from his work resources was therefore the plain. The real issue therefore to me is not what types of careers are more prone to suicide rates, but rather the ineffectiveness of our community to act on signs of mental instability from the people around us!

  12. #12 Chané Badenhorst (u15133169)
    April 5, 2015

    This article provides some thought-provoking and distressing facts about the reality of the escalating issue of self-destruction. It is not only upsetting but out-and-out terrifying that our world has become unbearable for so many, especially those in the working force.
    From personal experience I can relate as myself and my family have been affected by suicide more than once. One of these cases being related to occupation to a great extent. I think a great contributor to this end-result is how mental health problems and feelings such as suicide are often harshly judged. People who do not understand or experience these problems are often very judgemental and the constant fear of being judged or losing loved ones because of such feelings lingers inside of everyone. I agree with what Jean has stated however I believe action should be taken by not only implementing psychological help in the workplace but creating a open-minded environment where the fear of being judged won’t add to the weight they already carry on their shoulders.
    With regards to the fact of increasing population this does not necessarily mean that it contributes directly to suicides in the working force which is ultimately what the article is discussing. Although we are increasing in numbers it does not mean that the amount of employment available is also increasing to the same extent.
    I agree with Sam and Anel that it is, to a greater extent, linked to the economy. Not only can it be linked to workers in the primary sector but to all workers. To add to Sam’s proposal on why suicide rates are so much higher for workers ages 65 to 74 the economy and retirement also plays a great role. The importance of what the economy is doing when you first enter the job market, is equal in importance to how the economy is performing when you retire. As Sam mentioned many may feel that they have not earned enough to support them and/or their significant other throughout retirement which could cause hopelessness as they have reached the age where they believe they can’t improve the situation and may feel like a burden to others.
    Looking at the fact that workplace suicides were 15 times higher for men than for women is deplorable. Speculation regarding this matter leads me towards the stereotypical image of how men are the providers of their families. Stress and worries are placed on their shoulders because they do not only carry themselves but the ones that they love. Although we are moving towards a more gender equal society the typecast of the role of provider and protector remains ever present.
    One cannot dare to imagine or harshly judge what goes through a person’s mind when they reach the dreadful place where suicide seems like the only way out. I do not see suicide as a solution however I would not go to the extent of calling suicide a selfish act. A person who reaches an insufferable level of woe will kill themselves, the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a building that’s on fire. When the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the somewhat less terrible of two terrors. They do not want to fall; however if they do not they are left with the trepidation of the flames.

  13. #13 Michael George Byansheko(u15290655)
    Gauteng Pretoria
    April 9, 2015

    From my point of view the high rate of suicide in work places may be brought by two main factors.
    1.Racial segregation. As the study shows that most of the suicide is experienced by the minority of the race. This may be because some racist comments may be imposed on the individual of the small racial denomination leading them to feel inferior and hence commit suicide.
    2. The feeling of being defeated in an opinion which you find crucial. As it appeared some few years in the USA , a doctor who was among the researchers for discovery of the cure of HIV/AIDS jumped from the tenth floor of his office due to the fact that he did not permit further testing of the drug but the directors continued with the testing on human.
    These factors should then be taken into consideration so as to avoid workplace suicide.

  14. #14 yenziwe mhlabane
    April 10, 2015

    I think that a contributary factor to why the highest suicide rates are among those in the protective forces is that stereotypicalyy those in this line of work are not only predominently male but are also considered as strong ‘macho men’, this further increases the fear of asking for help. In Africa we have the saying ‘men dont cry’. This is to say that these are the people who would rather die with their problems than openly admit to having them.u15106692

  15. #15 Aimee Serafini
    April 10, 2015

    I do not find the high suicide rate within the protective service sector surprising at all. These workers are exposed to so much violence and trauma on a daily basis that it is no surprise that they would suffer from depression and other mental issues that would eventually lead to suicide. The surprisingly high suicide rate within the agricultural and automotive repair sectors is in fact not so surprising at all. As mentioned, farming plots are not near any mental hospitals so if a farmer has any mental issues they cannot seek help near by. Also these previously mentioned careers are very isolated from other people and socialisation is such a huge and important factor in people’s lives. Therefore with a lack of social interaction, mental health issues could develop as well as extreme loneliness which could result in suicide causing the increased suicide rates in these sectors and careers.

  16. #16 V Naidu
    April 10, 2015

    Suicide victims each have different reasons as to why they feel the need to take their own lives. I do believe and agree that in many cases a person’s occupation does define their identity and when one becomes extremely involved in their job it will become emotionally taxing. It is now known that in recent years the increased suicide rate is a serious cause for concern (u15055354).

  17. #17 Michael Pooler
    Durban
    April 10, 2015

    I agree with V Naidu, any victim of suicide will have an individual reason to take their own life and if a particular occupation has a high risk of suicide this needs to be investigated and addressed accordingly. Suicide is becoming more common in today’s society and this needs to be curbed.

  18. #18 Sense Itumeleng Rapetsoa
    South Africa, Pretoria
    April 13, 2015

    That is very true Michael Pooler, the statistics are shocking and should be taken seriously. It is quite evident that something needs to be done, as much as these workers are faced with extreme pressures at work,I still don’t think it is necessary for them to end their lives, it is really not worth it.

  19. #19 Angela Rinsma (u15137768)
    University of Pretoria
    April 13, 2015

    It is staggering to find out just how many people commit suicide in the US.
    I agree with most of the content in this blog, but I feel that you can not just classify different types of suicide in groups like work related or home related. I say this because home life and work related aspects of someone’s life can be very interlinked. People don’t usually commit suicide because of one problem in their lives. I would think it would be a combination of a few things going wrong in their lives. So for an example a mix of difficulties at work and at home.
    On top of that how can you ever be sure you know the real reason why someone committed suicide. Yes they could have written a note, but at the state they were probably in while writing, it’s probably not the most reliable source of information. So from this I would say that the study mentioned in this blog is flawed.

  20. #20 Thoriso
    Pretoria
    April 14, 2015

    I disagree with Simon Van Niekerk that committing suicide is a selfish way out,this is not always the case. Some people reach a point where they believe that their loved ones are better off with them gone. These people see it as though they are doing the world a favour. This is sad more than anything. Perhaps it is better to say suicide is an easier way out, just putting an end to all the hurt and misery. Maybe the consequence of leaving your worries behind to be dealt with by someone else may suggest the act of suicide being selfish,but I believe it is not.

  21. #21 Danielle van Wyk
    South Africa
    April 14, 2015

    I definitely think that more support programs should be implemented in the workplace. The society as a whole could also be better informed about symptoms of depression and about risky behavior. It only takes one person to say the right thing on the right time to save a life. I do not understand why the rate is higher for people between 65 and 74? Maybe because they are supposed to be retired already and the fact that they are still working indicates that they have financial problems?

  22. #22 Johann Stadler
    Pretoria
    April 15, 2015

    I had the privilege of growing up in a home where my mother was a Social Worker in the South African Police Service. We had several discussions on the topics of suicide, stress and depression as a phenomena under policemen. It was evident that the trends sited in the article is relevant in South Africa as well. What makes South Africa different to the USA is the brutality and the frequency of crime as well as the occurrence of so many brutal farm attacks. Many other factors play a role in the high incidence of suicide. These include e.g. shift work, low wages, incompetent management, involvement and threats from crime syndicates, access to fire arms, cannot shoot if not shot upon, insufficient social- and psychological support.I realized how dangerous it is to have individuals in the Service who should protect the public but, are not always mentally fit. This can put the public at risk in the event of possible psychological breakdown at a crime scene. (u15048722)

  23. #23 Nicole Konstantinopoulos
    South Africa
    April 17, 2015

    I find it very interesting that the ages between 65 and 74 have a higher risk of suicide than the ages 16-24. What could possible reasons be behind this and how could businesses possibly help their elderly employees and decrease the suicide rate? As mentioned in a previous comment, a possible reason could be the fact that they are approaching retirement but have insufficient means to support themselves and are unfit to keep working, which leads to stress and ultimately suicide. Businesses should make sure that adequate retirement plans are set in place for every employee, thus allowing employees to feel secure about the future, avoiding any suicide risks.
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  24. #24 Katlego
    Pretoria
    April 17, 2015

    I totally agree with Simone van Niekerk that the option is very selfish. But sometimes you can not judge such situations because people who commit suicide all have different reasons and we all go through different things in life. Some of us do have help and we do get help but in most situations the victims do not know that they have help or they just do not know where to get help.
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  25. […] risk factor, but anyone could choose to end their life in their place of work. Firearms are used in 48% of all workplace suicides, particularly in the protective services […]