Suicide Spike Among Police, Farmers, Military and Teens
The second week in September is National Suicide Awareness Week, an annual awareness event sponsored by Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and, sadly, the situation is growing more desperate. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), 47,173 Americans took their own lives in 2017.
The AFSP advocacy organization reports some of the following suicide statistics:
- Nearly 129 people, on average, die by suicide every single day in the U.S.
- In 2017, nearly 1.5 million people attempted to take their own life
- The suicide rate is highest among white-middle aged men
- Men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women
- Guns were used in more than half of all suicide deaths in 2017
What’s particularly concerning to some health care experts is the rise in suicide deaths among certain professions.
Suicide Rates by Occupation or Profession
Every industry comes with its own unique stressors, but some have lower rates of suicide and other mental health issues.
Occupations with Low Rates of Suicides
For instance, jobs associated with some of the lowest rates of suicide, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), are teachers, educators and librarians.
No one is quite sure why this is, but some observers suggest that educators, while not necessarily making a lot of money, get enough satisfaction from their work that it benefits their overall mental health.
They also work with other people daily, which has a socializing factor unlike those who work in isolation.
There are, though, other common professions that are seen as “fulfilling work” that show an alarmingly high rate of suicide among workers.
4 Industries or Professions with the Highest Rates of Suicide
There are many industries or professions with high rates of suicide, but these mentioned below have been steady or increasing in recent years.
1. Farming Has a High Rate of Suicide
The farming industry sees some of the highest rates of suicide among its workers, though the CDC says the exact number is difficult to quantify. Insiders believe this the result of several factors.
One factor that needs more research is the use of pesticide chemicals that many farm hands are exposed to on a daily basis.
There’s speculation that these kinds of toxic chemicals may lead to neurological issues that affect brain activity and, therefore mental health.
Another issue is the constant economic uncertainty that comes not just from extreme weather events that can destroy or damage crops, but from fluctuating markets that can leave farmers with massive surpluses that simply go bad before they’re able to be sold.
The recent tariffs with China have had a dramatic impact on economic security resulting in financial anxiety for many farmers in the United States.
Geographic isolation, along with low incomes, generally leads to poor healthcare resources. In many cases, people working in the farm industry may not have access to mental health care or are too proud to ask for help.
Jennifer Fahy, a communications director with the advocacy organization Farm Aid, points to the struggles of the 1980s. “The farm crisis was so bad, there was a terrible outbreak of depression and suicide,” she told NBC News. “Today, I think it’s actually worse.”
2. Police Suicide Rates on the Rise
Since January 2016, a staggering 578 police officers in the U.S. have taken their own lives, according to Blue H.E.L.P.
Blue H.E.L.P. is an advocacy group with the goal of reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues among the ranks of police officers. They suspect the number of recent suicides by police officers is likely underreported.
One tragic example is the New York City Police force where, tragically, nine officers have committed suicides in 2019 alone.
The Chicago Police Department saw a similar string of six officer suicides in an eight-month stretch.
Law enforcement officers are routinely subjected to dangerous, high-intensity situations that can have devastating consequences for everyone involved.
Compared to the general public, reports the National Alliance on Mental Illness, police officers battle higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and other mental health issues.
In fact, the suicide rate among police officers is four times as much as the rate among firefighters.
One of the biggest problems for police officers is that if they seek help for mental health issues, they often risk being suspended or, at the very least, reassigned to a different post.
In some cases that might be entirely appropriate, but it also has a chilling effect on individuals who value their jobs and role in the force and afraid to seek treatment.
“The essence of police culture is that you don’t ever show weakness, John Violanti, an expert on police stress and a professor at the University of Buffalo, told PBS. “That bleeds over into your personality, and cops sort of develop this hard shell.”
3. Active-Duty Military Suicides
The highly disciplined culture of the U.S. Military is facing something of a crisis among its ranks.
In 2018, there were 321 suicides among active-duty service members, the largest number of suicides since 2012.
A 2014 study found that around 1 in 4 active-duty military members appeared to show signs of a mental health condition.
The same study showed that rates of depression among service women and men are five times higher than in civilians.
Serving in combat zones is particularly fraught with psychological dangers, like traumatic brain injury (TBI) and PTSD.
In both cases, alcohol and drug abuse is common because it’s a way to self-medicate the painful symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, nightmares, mood swings and others that make day-to-life nearly unbearable.
Like with the police, there is also the issue of military culture, where showing vulnerability might come with perceived consequences like losing the trust of commanding officers and fellow service members, or even worse, being forced out of service by mandatory medical discharge.
Finally, assimilating back into civilian life with the added “psychological baggage” from having served, in some cases, several tours of duty in combat, can take an incredible toll on the overall mental health of a person.
4. Adolescent and Teen Suicide
Adolescence is not a profession, though anyone who’s gone through it can attest to the fact that being a teenager can feel like being stuck in a dead end, low paying job, where no one respects you.
New research finds a huge increase in the rates of depression among teenagers in all ranges, but especially in kids aged 14 to 17. Not surprisingly, that number correlates with the increased rates of suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts in the same age group.
To make matters worse, experts are not entirely sure what’s driving higher rates of depression and other mental health issues.
Some experts point to the rise in technology, such as extra screen time, excessive social media, greater isolation and a sedentary lifestyle, as potential causes.
Others, though, disagree and suggest there’s been no conclusive research that links teenage depression and social media.
“There’s a lot we don’t know, and we can’t say conclusively what’s driving the [mental health] trends,” Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, said an interview with Time.
“But in the real world when dealing with the health of children, you need to make your best guess before things are unequivocally proven,” she continued.
Reach Out to Friends and Family Who are Struggling
National Suicide Prevention Week is the perfect time to reach out to friends, family and others who might fall into one of these at-risk categories.
Simply checking-in with a person who might be struggling can go a long way in opening up lines of communication.
For industry organizations, this week is an excellent opportunity to educate members about the signs and risk factors associated with suicide, as well as highlighting an extensive list of free mental health resources.
Greater public awareness, education and understanding is key in lessening the stigma associated with poor mental health and can save lives.
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