Occupation: A factor in suicide?
Do you know what the leading cause of death is in adults younger than 50? A lot of people assume its accidents or a serious condition like heart disease, right? Wrong. More people in England under 50 die from suicide than anything else. It seems also that not all professions are affected equally. A study published in the Office for National Statistics [GB] described that particular occupations are more at risk.
Suicide by occupation can be difficult to explain given the number of other factors which may play a role, like things happening at home. This research allows employers to ensure they are doing everything they can to minimise the risks that come from the job itself. The study is based on registered deaths in England across 4 years (2011 - 2015) and suicide is defined using the National statistics definition - including intentional self-harm, injury or poisoning.
So, why do some jobs have a higher suicide risk than others?
A number of different factors can come into play that may increase the risk of suicide due to the occupation; however, there are three main reasons why a certain job may have a higher risk of suicide than others.
- Job features and (lack of) benefits.
Results from a 2013 study (Milner et al) showed that the highest rates of suicide tended to be among low-skilled workers. Highly skilled occupations had the lowest rates of suicide. This is likely due to the fact that low-skilled workers tend to be paid less and have less job security. This suggests it may not be the specific job itself, but the features of the job such as pay, security, and flexibility, that may be the real factor.
- People at high risk may choose particular kinds of job roles.
A study conducted by Kelly and Bunting (1998) found a higher risk of suicide among publicans (those who own a bar). They suggest that this could be due to the link between owning a bar or pub and having a higher risk of misusing alcohol. This may be because of the easy availability of alcohol, but it may also be that people who chose that profession are attracted to it because of the easy availability of alcohol. This may be the same for other professions that have higher risks, such as policing or the military, is it availability or is it that if a person has suicidal tendencies certain professions are more attractive than others. Also certain professional environments might expose workers to situations or substances that, after a lot of time, may increase the risk of mental health conditions, and, as a result, the risk of suicide.
- Having access to, or knowing, a method of suicide.
Following on from the theme of availability before. A study conducted between 1991 and 2000 suggested that doctors, dentists, nurses, vets, and farmers were at increased risk of suicide. This is commonly explained by people in those particular job roles having access to lethal drugs, weapons, etc. They may also may know more about what is effective as a method of suicide and what is not, such as what kind of drug to use, the doses, and effects.
What occupations are most at risk?.
The suicide statistics are shown in order of highest suicides rate in males by occupation:
Elementary occupations (low-skilled work) had the highest rate of suicides during 2011-2015. Risk of suicide was 44% higher than the national average. This accounts for 17% of all male suicides (with a job).
Skilled trade work. Workers in this category accounted for 29% of all male suicides.
Process, plant, machine operators. This occupation has an 8% more suicides than the national average.
Caring, leisure, service job-roles. This sector has a 9% higher rate of suicide than the national average although it was not statistically different.
Other groups had a lower risk of suicide than the national average with the lowest being managers, directors and senior officials.
The suicide statistics are shown in order of highest suicides rate in females by occupation:
The number of suicides for women working in elementary job roles is almost double the national average.
Culture, sport, media. This occupation has a suicide rate which is 69% higher than the national average.
Health professionals. From 2011 to 2015, the risk of suicide among health professionals was 24% higher than the national average. This mainly comes down to suicide risk among nurses which was 23% above the national average.
Whether or not the type of job you have acts as a factor to increase suicide risk - if the right kind of support was implemented early on, would these suicide rates decrease? To ensure you are doing everything you can to ensure prevention of suicide and other negative mental health concerns, have a look at the core standards to employee well-being in the workplace and make sure you are following each of them. To see how Thrive can help you support your employees, visit thrive.uk.com