Researchers examined Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injury data from 2003 to 2010 and found that more than 1,700 people died by suicide on the job. The study also found that workplace suicides were 15 times higher for men than for women.
The new research adds to the case for more preventative mental health measures in the workplace. Mental illness accounts for $44 billion in lost wages in the United States each year, yet many employees may not report their illness or seek treatment due to stigma or the fear of losing their jobs.
In order to make a change, employers need a better understanding that mental health is no longer just a personal problem, said lead study author Hope Tiesman, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
"This work is important since it continues to highlight the impact of suicide in this country -- even among those who are gainfully employed," Tiesman told The Huffington Post in an email. According to a recent study, unemployment causes approximately one-fifth of suicides worldwide each year. However, suicide trends in the workplace have not been well documented.
"As we point out in the article, occupation can define a person’s identity and personal issues can creep into the workplace," Tiesman said. "The lines between personal and work life are shrinking. We know that suicide is multi-factorial in nature; therefore, we need to take advantage of multiple opportunities to intervene in an individual's life -- including the workplace."
Approximately one in four adults experience mental illness in a given year, making the stigma and the growing rate of suicide difficult to ignore.
One way to prioritize mental health in the workplace is to focus on the office atmosphere, according to John. F. Greden, M.D., executive director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center.
"Employers can establish new and innovative workplace mental health programs that are tailored to the population that they have working there," Greden told HuffPost. "They can inform workers where to turn for help if they're struggling. They can create a climate that encourages employees to talk to each other when things aren't going well."
The new research also showed that law enforcement officers, farmers, medical doctors and soldiers were at higher risk for suicide than any other occupation. Tiesman said mental health professionals should look to the workplace as a "potential site for suicide prevention purposes." The results indicate there's a need for more research to help understand occupation-specific risk factors for suicide, as well as development of more workplace mental health programs, she wrote in the study.
"Unequivocally, thoughts of suicide usually come from underlying problems such as depression and they are treatable," Greden explained. "You can get past this. Suicidal thoughts are to depression what fevers are to pneumonia. If we treat the underlying problem, it can clear up."
The findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.