By: Edward Crenshaw, CEO DESTIN Enterprises, LLC.
The topic of suicide is generally greeted as a very dark, tragic, morbid and mostly inconvenient conversation in any capacity. It is a dismal subject that most people seem to want to avoid discussing and certainly not something that many people are very comfortable or properly prepared to address. For most people, the subject of suicide often produces dreadful and extremely sad memories or cases where a precious (often times) troubled life, along with the person’s enormous potential had expired way too soon. The majority of outcomes from a suicide loss, produces a wide array of victims that share emotions across the continuum - from mourning and lamenting over what possibly could have been done to prevent the circumstance; to a vast series of grievous questions regarding the internal or external societal factors that may have contributed to the motive of the individual’s fatal decision.
However, as morbid as a topic as it is, suicide conspicuously ranks as the tenth leading cause of death in the US and is a growing and prevalent reality, particularly among certain ‘high risk’ groups. A report distributed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) illustrated that in 2009 there were 36,909 deaths in the US that were directly caused by a suicidal act. According to their survey, the rate of suicide in 2009 cites an occurrence of 12 per every 100,000 people. In contrast, the previous rate in 2000 had been 10.4 per 100,000 people. Today, we are currently witnessing significant rising statistics regarding suicide among our military veteran populations (as many as 1 suicide per day) and more increasingly among young people. These sobering statistics reflected in this remarkable CDC report also illustrates a rise in suicide from 6.3 percent in 2009 to 7.7 percent in 2011 among people aged 10 through 24, making it the third leading cause of death among that age group. Based on these statistics, clearly, the problem has reached epidemic proportions and must be properly addressed. Recent data (2005) estimates the cost associated with suicide in the US has eclipsed greater than $100 million.
Generally speaking, most ‘working-aged’ professionals spend more than a third of their social time involved in some capacity involving their profession, which includes being directly present at the job (this eclipses the time spent resting and social time at home with family.) All things considered, for a person contemplating suicide, certain abnormal behaviors, suicidal characteristics and other “red flags” are often subtly or more apparently on display to various co-workers and close acquaintances within the workplace and in other social settings. Therefore, it is important for employers to apply specialized diversity education programs for their workforces towards the nature of the issue (depression and other mental health challenges), recognizing the signs and symptoms, prevention/ intervention techniques, along with methodologies for appropriately and respectfully dealing with the issue in the unfortunate and disruptive aftermath of a suicide or suicide attempt of an employee at the workplace.
Suicide of a co-worker, a family member, or an attempted suicide by a co-worker can be a significantly disturbing and unsettling issue for any workforce. It can have a detrimental impact on productivity; morale and can lead to toxic social stigma and misconceptions from other employees. A suicide (or suicide attempt) taking place within the workplace can be even more devastating and can lead to collective shock among employees and high attrition rates.
A report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) states that certain high-skill, high pressure and high-stakes occupations have elevated suicide rates. There are also certain industries and professions with high suicide rates. The following study highlights the lowest to the highest suicidal rate professions as ranked by a NIOSH survey:
19. Natural scientists are 1.28 times more likely to commit suicide than average (NIOSH recorded 353 suicides among 14,923 white male deaths)
18. Pharmacists are 1.29 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 147 suicides among 7,719 white male deaths)
17. Precision woodworkers are 1.3 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 203 suicides among 7,536 white male deaths)
16. Electricians are 1.31 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 439 suicides among 8,324 white male deaths. Category includes electrical & electronic technicians)
15. Heat treating equipment operators are 1.32 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 34 suicides among 1,880 white male deaths)
14. Farm managers are 1.32 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 94 suicides among 4,959 white male deaths. Category includes all farm managers except horticultural)
13. Lathe machine operators are 1.33 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 44 suicides among 2,012 white male deaths. Category includes lathe & turning machine operators)
12. Lawyers are 1.33 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 445 suicides among 19,859 white male deaths. Category includes lawyers & judges)
11. Electrical equipment assemblers are 1.36 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 89 suicides among 2,017 white male deaths. Category includes electrical & electronic equipment assemblers)
10. Real estate sellers are 1.38 times more likely to commit suicide than average (NIOSH recorded 460 suicides among 18,763 white male deaths. Category includes real estate sales occupations)
9. Hand molders are 1.39 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 48 suicides among 2,084 white male deaths. Category includes hand molders & shapers except jewelers)
8. Urban planners are 1.43 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 148 suicides among 3,068 white male deaths. Category includes social scientists & urban planners)
7. Supervisors of heavy construction equipment are 1.46 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 35 suicides among 2,038 white male deaths. Category includes supervisors of material moving equipment operators)
6. Chiropractors are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than average (NIOSH recorded 43 suicides among 1,516 white male deaths. Category includes licensed chiropractors along with miscellaneous unlicensed health diagnosing practitioners)
5. Finance workers are 1.51 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 170 suicides among 4,562 white male deaths. Category includes securities and financial services sales occupations)
4. Veterinarians are 1.54 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 39 suicides among 1,353 white male deaths)
3. Dentists are 1.67 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 148 suicides among 6,274 white male deaths)
2. Physicians are 1.87 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 476 suicides among 16,887 white male deaths)
1. Marine engineers are 1.89 times more likely to commit suicide (NIOSH recorded 35 suicides among 1,295 white male deaths. Category includes marine engineers & naval architects)
Suicide rates are highest for people between the ages of 40 and 59 and Caucasian people are more likely to die by suicide than any other racial/ethnic group followed by Alaskans and Native Americans. The rate among non-Hispanic white men age 85 or older is 4 times as high as the national average and is nearly 30% higher in people ages 65 or older. Since 1993 (31,102 deaths from suicide/ 12 per 100,000), the year 1999 produced the fewest casualties at 29,199 (10.5 per 100,000) and 2009 represents the highest number of casualties at 36,909 in the US.
There are also certain gender indications that support this growing suicidal phenomenon. Specifically, men are 4 times likely to die by suicide than women; however, women are 3 times likely to attempt suicide than men. Men are more likely to use firearms, while the preferred methodology among women is poison. More than half of those that commit suicide use firearms or handguns. Suffocation is the preferred method in almost a quarter of suicides. This is closely followed by poisoning at 18% of suicides. Family histories of mental health challenges, suicide or violence are also key factors; as are other complexities regarding mental health disorders and depression. These various mental health complexities greatly contribute to the risk factors associated with 90% of suicidal deaths.
Suicide is a very complex issue with several other high-risk factors including:
Genetics – this presents a possible predisposition based on family history of suicide, suicidal attempts and/or family histories of depression and other mental health challenges.
Psychiatric disorders- this is represented by statistics that reflect at least 90% of people that take their own lives have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric illnesses -- such as schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bi-polar disorder, bulimia, or some other forms of personality disorders or anti-social conditions.
Traumatic brain injury- Researchers are discovering a correlation between suicidal ideations and the effects of traumatic brain injury conditions (most commonly with military veterans) including people with various chronic post-concussional conditions.
Previous attempts- People who have previously attempted suicide are at much higher risk to repeat an attempt. Studies indicate that 20 to 50 percent of those that commit suicide had a history of a previous attempt to take their own life.
Chronic pain- Many people that experience chronic pain without relief may view their daily routines as a form of prolonged agony. The idea of suicide almost becomes a sign of relief from the burdens of consistent discomfort.
Medical contraindications- Some medications (most notably some anti-depressants) may induce anger and irritability, anxiety, trouble sleeping and may induce suicidal thoughts/attempts.
Combat exposure- Research suggests that certain exposures to the harsh and brutal environments associated with military combat may lead to (PTSD) conditions and may contribute to the likelihood of suicidal thoughts.
Education is especially needed for anyone that has ever ridiculed or belittled the issue of bullying or depression. Training is also very beneficial to the workforce as a way to professionally, intelligently and compassionately discuss the subject and to receive valuable feedback. Employers of transitioning veterans are also highly encouraged to provide specialized training programs regarding the issue of suicide. In 2012, for the first time in at least a generation, the number of active-duty soldiers who killed themselves is 177; this exceeds the 176 who were killed while in the war zone. This also means that more of America's soldiers died at their own hands than in pursuit of the enemy. Throughout the branches of the US military (including the reserves), in 2012, 349 service members committed suicide, compared to 295 that died in combat.
Most relationships among veterans are arguably as close as some marital relationships. In the event that a fellow serviceman dies in combat, most veterans are instructed to contain their grief in order to aptly resume full functionality and attention on the dangerous battlefield. Returning home from the longest wars in US history has produced veterans that have endured multiple deployments and have personally experienced the loss of a known associate/ co-worker in the military.
In the mind of some veterans, the pressure to completely acclimate to the civilian culture is difficult and some may elect to entertain substance abuse as a way to mask feelings. Some others may exhibit some forms of abnormal behavioral issues in their adjustment back home. For some with the agonizing condition of a brain injury, suicide may represent a relief from it all, or in some cases for people with other combat related conditions, permanently removing themselves as a burden from those that may not completely understand their plight may directly appeal to some individuals.
The Iraq and Afghanistan wars also represent the first time the use of anti-psychotics, anti-depressants and sleeping pills have been administered to active-duty veterans. These controlled pharmaceuticals contain a ‘black-box’ of contraindications that can induce sleeping and eating disorders, irritability and erratic behavior, along with suicide ideologies.
For collegiate institutions and employers, the time is now to take a proactive stand towards helping to eradicate the issue of suicide in our society. Specialized education programs such as “Preparing Employers to Reintegrate Combat Exposed Veterans with Disabilities” (P.E.R.C.E.V.D.) is an effective way forward for employers and collegiate institutions.
Ed Crenshaw is a US Navy veteran, diversity practitioner, disability subject matter expert and creator of the innovative “Preparing Employers to Reintegrate Combat Exposed Veterans with Disabilities” (P.E.R.C.E.V.D.) diversity-training program. He is also the author of the books, “The P.E.R.C.E.V.D. Principles” and “The Employers Guide to Understanding Hidden Conditions Related to Suicide.” As a well-renown professional speaker, Ed is a passionate champion and respected advocate for people with disabilities.