18 March 2015

Workplace suicides on the rise

Police officers and firefighters at high risk of suicide, and suicide rates are 15 times greater for men than women.


South Africa has the 8th highest rate of suicide in the world, with over 8 000 people committing suicide each year.

Based on this, suicide is the 3rd greatest cause of unnatural death in the country. In South Africa alone, there are 23 completed suicides and 230 attempted suicides every day.

The South African Federation for Mental Health reports that globally it is estimated that close to 1 million people die from suicide annually.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has found in international studies that despite the alarming findings about the prevalence of suicide, suicide all too often fails to be a prioritised public health problem globally and those that seek help at public health services are often not provided with effective and efficient help.

Workplace suicides on the rise

In the United States workplace suicides are on the rise and people in protective services jobs – such as police and firefighters – are at the greatest risk.

"Occupation can largely define a person's identity, and psychological risk factors for suicide, such as depression and stress, can be affected by the workplace," said lead investigator Hope Tiesman. She is an epidemiologist with the division of safety research at the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The researchers analysed national data from 2003 to 2010 and identified slightly more than 1 700 suicides that occurred in the workplace – or 1.5 per one million workers.

Read: Suicide warning signs

People in protective services jobs had the highest workplace suicide rate at 5.3 per million workers. That's more than three times the national workplace suicide rate of 1.5 per million, the researchers said.

The second highest workplace suicide rate was among people in farming, fishing and forestry (5.1 per million workers), followed by those in installation, maintenance and repair occupations (3.3 per million), the study found. However, a subset of workers in this category – those in auto maintenance and repair – had a workplace suicide rate of 7.1 per million workers, the researchers said.

Workplace suicides were 15 times higher for men than for women, and almost four times higher for workers aged 65 to 74 than for those 16 to 24. In comparison, the overall suicide rate outside the workplace was 144 per one million people.

Suicides in the military were not included in the analysis due to data collection issues, according to the authors of the study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

"A more comprehensive view of work life, public health, and work safety could enable a better understanding of suicide risk factors and how to address them," Tiesman said in a journal news release. "The workplace should be considered a potential site to ... train managers in the detection of suicidal behaviour, especially among the high-risk occupations identified in this paper."

Read more:

Mental illness in SA – are we getting the help we need?

Is stress making you ill?

Depression and suicide: SA's unseen killers

Image: Stop suicide from Shutterstock

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