Can the type of job you choose affect your risk of suicide? Possibly, according to a new U.S. report that found for certain occupations, the odds of suicide were significantly higher.
From 2000 to 2012, the overall rates of suicide for people aged 16 and older rose 21 percent, the study found. That works out to an approximate increase from 13 to 16 suicides per every 100,000 people in the United States.
But among farmers, fishers and foresters, the suicide rate was dramatically higher — at 85 suicides per 100,000 people. For males in those jobs, the rate was even greater. Their suicide rate was 90.5 suicides per 100,000, according to the report.
“People working in certain occupations are at greater risk for suicide due to job isolation, a stressful work environment, trouble at work and home, lower income and education, and less access to mental health services,” said lead researcher Wendy LiKamWa McIntosh. She’s a health scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Farmers have additional risk factors like social isolation and unwillingness to seek mental health services,” McIntosh said. The report also noted that farmers’ exposure to pesticides may affect their neurological system and contribute to depression.
Other occupations that carried significantly higher-than-normal rates of suicide included construction and extraction, with 53 suicides per 100,000; and installation, maintenance and repair with 48 suicides per 100,000, the study found.
For construction workers, the report authors suggested that a lack of steady work, isolation and a fragmented community might play a role in their higher risk. The investigators theorized that people working in installation, maintenance and repair may have long-term exposure to solvents that could damage their neurological systems. That might contribute to memory loss and depression, the researchers suggested.
Men working in fishing, forestry or farming had the highest rates of suicide for their gender.
Among women, the highest rate was seen in those working in protective services, such as policing and firefighting. Their rate was 14 per 100,000. Men in the protective services field had a suicide rate of 34 per 100,000, the report noted.
People working in protective services must cope with shift work and extreme stress, such as traumatic and violent situations. They also have easy access to the means to kill themselves, the report pointed out.
“To reduce these suicide rates, employers need to focus on suicide prevention at the workplace, including employee-assistance programs and training to spot signs of suicide,” McIntosh said.
Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, pointed out that “work is increasingly stressful.”
People take their own lives “mostly because they are depressed,” he said. “We live in a 24-hour world, so it can be easy to feel overburdened, which can lead to depression,” Manevitz added.
Companies need assistance programs that look for work stresses that may become overwhelming and lead to feelings of isolation and helplessness. Fellow co-workers also need to be on the lookout for people who talk of killing themselves or seem depressed, he said.
In some professions, that may be harder to do than in others. For example, people working in farming, forestry and fishing may feel that it’s a sign of weakness to seek help for depression, Manevitz suggested.
The study included data from the 17 states using the 2012 National Violent Death Reporting System. In 2012, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death among Americans 16 and older.
From 2000 to 2012, an estimated 40,000 Americans died by suicide, the researchers said.
The job categories with the least suicides included personal care and service; office and administrative support; and education, training and library. Each of these categories had eight or fewer suicides per 100,000 people, the report found.
The report was published July 1 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
To learn more about suicide in America, visit the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.