What do veterinarians, doctors, nurses, dentists, police officers, military personnel, seafarers, artists, and farmers have in common? Let's be honest here — it sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it turns out that it's simply bad. People with these occupations have, both historically and in recent times, had a significantly higher risk of committing suicide.
What are the risk factors for suicide?
A person's risk of considering and eventually attempting suicide — sometimes successfully — depends on a very wide range of factors.
Some of them are quite obvious. Feelings of hopelessness (not seeing another way out), mental health struggles like major depression or substance abuse, and serious physical illness can all increase the risk. So can a recent and significant loss, whether that's someone's death, job loss and loss of financial stability, or a romantic break up or divorce. In short, suffering increases the risk of suicide.
People who have previously already attempted suicide, establishing that they were willing to end their suffering this way, have a higher risk than folks who have never contemplated taking their own life. A person is also more likely to consider suicide an option if someone in their family has passed away as a result of it, if a number of suicides have recently taken place in their environment (which can include the news), and if their culture has a tendency to see suicide as a brave way out.
Those people who live in a society where seeking help for the kinds of personal struggles that may make them consider suicide are stigmatized and seeking help is difficult are also at a higher risk, along with socially-isolated people who don't have anyone to turn to for help.
What occupations top the suicide list, and why?
Suicide rates among these professions started dropping as we approached the twentieth century, however, and increased among people holding high-stress, low-pay, manual jobs. Coal miners, construction workers, window cleaners, truck drivers, plasterers, garbage collectors, and butchers all suffered a sharp collective rise in suicide rates.
Why? This is really interesting, actually. Some of these jobs are clearly exhausting, require long hours, don't pay very much and don't offer financial stability or much hope of advancing, or rob workers of the ability to experience daylight. That that last factor plays a role can be demonstrated by looking at the fact that people working night shifts — in any profession — are also more likely to commit suicide.
Research, however, has established that other reasons behind the higher suicide rates in these jobs and others on the list of high-suicide professions include:
- Again, having easy access to things a person can use to commit suicide.
- Social isolation in the workplace.
- Economic hardship — recessions that cause people in certain professions to lose their jobs or be at risk of job loss in turn increase the risk of suicide. In some cases, these professions become obsolete with technological or other changes.
- Perhaps most fascinating is the idea that people who self-select into high-risk jobs, which would include coal mining, physical labor, and seafaring, are also independently more likely to commit suicide.
Now, of course, you want a list of professions with high suicide rates
And here it is.
Men are generally more likely to commit suicide than woman. The most recent research indicates that this is the Top 10 of suicidal occupations among males, but let's also see how they've changed since the late-ish twentieth century:
- Beauticians and men working similar jobs are in first place — but in the 1970s and '80s, veterinarians committed suicide in the highest numbers.
- Coal miners took over in second place from merchant seafarers.
- Merchant seafarers are in third place, while hotel porters used to have this spot.
- Laborers in building trades rose to fourth place in the twenty-first century, but hairdressers and barbers used to occupy this spot on the list.
- Artists now have fourth place, knocking pharmacists down quite a few notches.
- Window cleaners cleaners took this spot from musicians.
- Plasterers are now in sixth place, replacing lab assistants.
- Market and street traders have taken seventh place from dentists.
- Musicians are still on the list in the twenty-first century, albeit lower down. Eight place used to "belong" to nurses.
- Refuse and salvage workers have taken over from hospital porters in tenth place.
The list is different for women:
- Sports players are now the most high-risk profession among females, whereas veterinarians held this spot in the twentieth century.
- Artists are now in second place among women, replacing clothing designers.
- Third up, still making the list, are veterinarians. They have taken this spot from pharmacists.
- Gardeners and groundswomen now represent the profession fourth most likely to commit suicide, while artists previously occupied this space.
- Librarians are now in fifth place, which doctors used to hold.
- Truck drivers have replaced dentists.
- Pharmacists take up the seventh place that was held by housekeepers before.
- Taxi drivers are in eight place. In the later part of the twentieth century, female actors and entertainers were in this spot.
- Photographers and camerawomen took over from therapists here.
- Finally, prison service officers are in tenth place, which used to be held by radiographers.
For both men and women, people in the occupations found to carry the very highest risk of suicide are significantly more likely to take their own lives than all the professions lower down on the list.
A final word
The fact that people in certain jobs have been found to commit suicide in higher numbers in no way directly means you are at risk if you do one of these jobs and you're not already suicidal, though access to means of committing suicide does make it more likely that you'll succeed if you try.
Anyone who is feeling suicidal should call a suicide hotline, an ambulance, or head for the ER — regardless of their job. Before you get to that point, consider stress-reduction strategies and talk therapy if your job is inherently depressing, stressful, or leads you to encounter trauma and tragedy.