RNA - Nearly 38,000 working-age Americans died by suicide in 2017, raising the overall national suicide rate to 18 deaths per 100,000 people from 12.9 in 2000, the study team notes. In 2016, though, the new analysis found suicide rates among men in mining and extraction industries to be at 54.2 per 100,000 and at 45.3 per 100,000 in construction.
In total, researchers identified five major industries and six groups of occupations with suicide rates notably higher than the national average for both men and women.
The authors hope to prompt further research into the reasons behind the high rates, and into prevention efforts that could be tailored to different types of workplace, they write in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The workplace is an important place for suicide prevention efforts because it is where many adults spend a great deal of their time,” lead author Cora Peterson of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control said in an email.
Low-skilled work, lower education and socioeconomic status, access to lethal means at the workplace, job insecurity and stress have previously been found to contribute to increased risk of suicide, experts say.
In a prior study of 2015 data from 17 states, the authors also found mining/extraction and construction had the top suicide rates for men.
The current study, which used 2016 data from the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, examined more than 15,700 deaths among working people aged 16 to 64. Researchers calculated separate rates for men and women because too few women were represented in the data for some occupations to derive a rate.
In addition to extraction industries and construction, high suicide rates were seen among men in automotive repair and other maintenance services, with 39.1 deaths per 100,000. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting had a 36.1 per 100,000 rate among men, and the transportation and warehousing industry had a rate of 29.8 for men and 10.1 for women.
For women, construction, healthcare support and protective services that include firefighters, security screeners, jailers and lifeguards had the highest suicide rates overall, with a range of 25.5 to 10.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. That compares to a national average of 7.7 suicide deaths per 100,000 women.
Although it’s already known that suicide rates vary by industry and occupation, the study results could help inform targeted suicide-prevention strategies for people in different occupations, said Lorann Stallones, a psychology professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins who wasn’t involved in the study.
“You can reach people in different ways, with probably similar messages in terms of trying to help people. But how you get to them is where you have to carefully think through the targeting,” Stallones said in a phone interview.
“(With) construction workers you would want to have a very different approach than if you were talking about artists or musicians,” she added.
As an example, Mona Shattell of Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore said, long-haul truck drivers could greatly benefit from interventions such as having access to health clinics at truck stops.
“There’s so much stress and pressure on drivers to get their load to the destination on time . . . They say taking time out for healthcare is not necessarily a priority,” Shattell, who wasn’t involved in the study, said in a phone interview.
The study team points to resources developed specifically for workplaces, available online from the nonprofit group Workplace Suicide Prevention and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
Stallones and Shattell said addressing the stigma around mental health and wellbeing is the first step to lowering the risk of suicide, as many employees may not want to admit to feeling depressed, anxious or suicidal on concerns of how they may be perceived by others at work.
“If we could train more people to be comfortable, I think there might be more opportunity to intervene,” Stallones said.