|Suicide rates have fallen among farmers|
Among the various risk factors for suicide, psychologists have recognised for some time that a person’s occupation plays an important part. Suicide rates have tended to be unusually high in professions that provide ready access to guns, drugs, or open water, such as in farming, medicine, dentistry and maritime careers.
A new analysis has examined whether this still holds true. Stephen Roberts and his colleagues accessed the UK suicide rates for dozens of occupations in 1979 to 1983 and compared these with similar data recorded between 2001 and 2005.
Consistent with the ready access theory, vets, pharmacists, dentists, doctors, and farmers were all among the top 15 occupations with the highest suicide rates back in the late 70s, early 80s. But this had all changed when looking at the more recent data. In the early noughties, none of these professions were in the top 30 occupations in terms of suicide rates. Instead, the occupations with the highest rates of suicide were largely manual, including coal miners, builders, window cleaners, plasterers and refuse collectors.
Stated differently, of 55 high-risk occupations, 14 had shown reductions in suicide rate in the noughties compared with the late seventies, and these were almost exclusively highly educated professional roles like doctors, radiographers and judges, as well as farmers, actors and authors. In contrast, five of the 55 high-risk professions showed an increased rate of suicide in the later data, and these were exclusively manual professions – coal miners, labourers, plasterers, fork-lift drivers and carpenters.
The new findings are published at a time when arguments are raging over the relative prominence that should be given to biological or social explanations of mental illness.
According to this new analysis, socio-economic forces appear to have become an increasingly major factor in occupational suicide risk. The percentage of variation in suicide rates explained by an occupation’s socioeconomic grouping (e.g. managerial, trade, admin etc) almost doubled from 11.4 per cent in the early data to 20.7 per cent in the early noughties. Bear in mind these figures were from before the recession, so if anything it seems likely this trend will have intensified in more recent years.
The data also showed that suicide rates were much higher among men than women, and that among men, the most at-risk occupations tended to be manual, whereas in women they were more often (non-manual) professional.
If the pattern of these results are replicated in other European and Western countries, the researchers said this “could help in developing new suicide prevention interventions that can be targeted at specific occupational groups.”
Roberts, S., Jaremin, B., and Lloyd, K. (2013). High-risk occupations for suicide Psychological Medicine, 43 (06), 1231-1240 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291712002024
More Digest reports on suicide.
Men, suicide and society – why disadvantaged men in mid-life die by suicide (Samaritans report).