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Suicide Rates Across Job Categories: CDC Report

Findings detailed in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that farmers and fishers have the highest rates of suicide, particularly among men, while teachers and librarians have the lowest (McIntosh et al 2016).

Using data from the CDC's National Violent Death Reporting System, a study examined variations in occupation categories, age and gender among 12,312 reported deaths by suicide in 2012. Occupation groups were defined using the US Department of Labor's Standard Occupational Classification system.

Demographic statistics on suicide rates:

  • Greater risk for suicide in males: 77% male, 23% in females (among 12,312 included in study)

  • Middle age at highest risk: Nearly 85% occurred in individuals aged 16-64 years, though the greatest proportion (about 23%) was in people aged 45-54 years.

Jobs with the highest rates of suicide per occupation:

  • Farming, fishing and forestry: 84.5 per 100,000

  • Construction and extraction: 53.3 per 100,000

  • Installation, maintenance and repair: 47.9 per 100,000

  • These were also the top three job categories with the highest suicide rates among males. For females specifically, suicide rates were highest for workers in protective services (14.1 per 100,000); legal (13.9 per 100,000); and healthcare practitioners and technical occupations (13.3 per 100,000).

Jobs with the lowest rates of suicide per occupation:

  • Education, training, and library jobs: 7.5 over 100,000

  • Office and administrative support: 7.9 per 100,000

  • Personal care and service: 8.0 per 100,000

In response to the report, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (NAASP) released a statement (Melnyk 2016) reading in part, "These data underscore the need for increased attention to suicide prevention in the work settings on par with the workplace's increased attention to other public health issues, like smoking cessation and physical activity. A comprehensive approach to suicide prevention in the work settings has the potential to reduce the number of suicide among working adults. The CDC data remind us that while more is being done now than ever before to prevent suicides in the United States, greater efforts must occur in a variety of settings, including the work settings."

Although the study was not designed to answer questions about why more workers in these job groups committed suicide, the authors extrapolated several potential reasons. First, the high-suicide occupation groups embody many features identified by previous research as ones associated with an increased risk of suicide.

Identifiers of job groups with increased suicide risk:

  • Socially isolating

  • Lower incomes

  • Lower education requirements

  • Considered unsteady

  • High-stress occupations

  • Involve exposure to violent or traumatic events

The authors also note that persons exposed to neurotoxic chemicals, such those in the farming industry and in installation, maintenance and repair jobs, are at risk for neurological damage and subsequent depression—itself a significant and independent risk factor for suicide.

Although the study utilized a large set of data, it only examined findings from 17 states, which may not be nationally representative of suicide rates across all US states. Rates of suicide were only calculated for occupation categories, not individual jobs, so it's unclear which specific professions pose the greatest risk. And the 12,000-plus suicides analyzed account for less than half of the approximately 40,000 that occurred in the US in 2012.

Despite these limitations, findings highlight the importance of community and workplace wellness programs in providing education, reducing stigma and delivering targeted suicide prevention efforts, particularly for people working in high-risk industries. On-the-job screening and information initiatives can be implemented with relative ease and at low cost and burden to companies, while offering the potential to mitigate harm and save lives.

Employers can learn more about implementing a comprehensive suicide prevention program in their workplace by visiting the NAASP's blueprint for action.

Examples of industry-specific suicide prevention resources can be found at:

The CDC report can be found here in its entirety.


Suicide Rates by Occupational Group — 17 States, 2012 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)

Construction + Suicide Prevention: 10 Action Steps Companies Can Take to Save Lives

Breaking the Silence on Law Enforcement Suicides

Emily A. Kuhl, Ph.D., owner and operator of Right Brain/Left Brain, LLC, is a consultant to the Center for Workplace Mental Health and a medical writer and editor in the Washington, D.C., area.


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