High-Risk Occupations for Suicide

December 06, 2013
News Type:  Weekly Spark Research

Researchers in Britain found that suicide rates vary significantly among occupations and that the occupations associated with high rates of suicide have changed over the last 30 years. During the years 1979-1983, many of the occupations with high rates of suicide were those in which people had access to lethal means (including pharmaceuticals or guns). An examination of mortality data for the years 2001-2005 revealed decreases in rates among the occupational groups most at risk during 1979-1983 and large increases among manual laborers.

Many of the occupations with high suicide rates during the earlier time period had easy access to lethal means (especially pharmaceuticals and guns). These job categories included veterinarians (who had the highest suicide rate), pharmacists (who ranked fourth), dentists (sixth), doctors (tenth), and farmers (thirteenth). In 2001-2005, none of these jobs ranked among the top 30 occupations associated with suicide risk in Great Britain. The authors speculate that efforts in support of national suicide prevention targets set by the Department of Health beginning in 1992 may have contributed to these decreases.

In contrast, the suicide rates of other occupations rose significantly over this same time period, despite the relative prosperity of the years in which these increases took place. Occupations for which suicide rates increased included coal miners, building trade laborers, plasterers, forklift truck drivers, and carpenters. Almost 90 percent of the occupations in which suicide risk increased “sharply” (but not always to the point of statistical significance) were classified as “manual occupations.” The authors suspect that this increase in risk was associated with a substantial decline in employment opportunities for certain categories of manual labor. This change in employment patterns may have “interacted with other factors such as re-employment prospects, the ability to adjust to change and to manage stress” to affect suicide rates. The study also revealed that the suicide rate of women was much lower than that of men and that there is much less of an association between suicide risk and manual labor among women. Many of the occupations associated with a high risk for suicide for women are professional or non-manual.

The authors suggest that research is needed to explore whether similar socioeconomic trends in other Western and European countries have led to similar changes in the pattern of suicide and, if this is the case, it would be important to develop interventions that target occupations with high suicide rates.

Roberts, S. E., Jaremin, B., & Lloyd, K. (2013). High-risk occupations for suicidePsychological Medicine, 43(6):1231-1240.

Populations:  People in Particular Occupations