A new government report highlights increases in suicide among working adults–and the industries that are most at risk. 

By Amanda MacMillan
November 20, 2018

A new government report highlights suicide rates among different occupations and found surprising differences between industries for both men and women. According to the most recent research, suicide rates are highest among men in construction and extraction industries, while they are highest among women working in arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media.

The report also shows a 34% increase in suicides among the U.S. working-age population between 2000 and 2016, from 12.9 per 100,000 people to 17.3.

These statistics come from an analysis of 22,053 people in 17 states, ages 16 to 64, who died by suicide in either 2012 or 2015. Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grouped those deaths into 22 different industry categories and published their findings this week in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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In both 2012 and 2015, the construction and extraction industry category had the highest suicide rates for men: 43.6 and 53.2 per 100,000 working persons, respectively. In 2015, the arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media category had the second highest suicide rate among men (and also the highest increase in suicides since 2012), while the installation, maintenance, and repair industry had the third highest.

For women, the highest-risk industry category in both 2012 and 2015 was arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media—with 11.7 and 15.6 suicides per 100,000, respectively. Protective services and health care support (which did not include health care practitioners and technical occupations) had the second and third highest suicide rates for women in 2015, while food preparation and serving-related occupations saw the highest increase since 2012.

Among both men and women, the lowest suicide rates in 2015 were observed among people in education, training, and library occupations.

In their new report, the CDC researchers point out that the workplace is an “important but underutilized” location for suicide prevention efforts, because it’s where many adults spend substantial amounts of time. “Workplaces could potentially benefit from suicide prevention activities,” the authors wrote, and tailored approaches might be necessary “to support workers at higher risk.”

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Factors such as job insecurity and lack of job control have been associated with psychological distress and suicide, the authors wrote in their paper. Certain occupations also tend to be associated with lower income and education, which can influence suicide rates, as well. More research is needed to know whether improving working conditions and reducing stress could have an effect on these trends, they wrote.

To help prevent suicide, the CDC recommends that employers implement workplace wellness programs and online mental health screenings, increase awareness of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK [8255]), and reduce access to “lethal means” among people at risk.

Workplaces can also aim to enhance social connectedness and expand access to resources, strengthen state or local economic supports, implement practices that decrease stigma and encourage people to seek help, and provide referrals to mental health professionals, the authors wrote in their paper. And employers should have a response plan in place—should a suicide affect their organization—to address the issue with workers and support surviving family and friends.

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“Increasing suicide rates in the U.S. are a concerning trend that represent a tragedy for families and communities and impact the American workforce,” said Deb Houry, MD, MPH, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, in an agency press release. “Knowing who is at greater risk for suicide can help save lives through focused prevention efforts.”

While this study focused on American’s working-age populations, the CDC has previously reported that suicide rates have been climbing among nearly every demographic, age group, and geographic area. A report published earlier this year by the National Center for Health Statistics also found that this increase has been especially high among girls and women.

"If you are concerned that someone you care about is thinking about suicide, have the difficult conversation and ask them," Colleen Carr, director of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, told Health earlier this year. "It will not put the thought in their head or make them feel worse. It tends to give people relief that the door has been opened to have this candid conversation and get support. Do not judge or try to solve their problem–just listen."

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).