Mind

The Changing Face of British Suicide

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticOct 31, 2012 1:13 PM

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Which jobs are at the highest risk of suicide?

In a fascinating new study, British researchers Roberts, Jaremin and Lloyd show dramatic changes over time. 30 years ago, the worst occupations for suicide were the medical professions. Now, it's blue-collar workers, with coal miners topping the list.

They used official records of UK suicides, comparing 1979-1983 and 2000-2005. Here's the key data (their graphs, my colours)

In the 80s, veterinarians were the most suicidal of all jobs; by 2005, they'd dropped off the Top 30 list entirely. Other healthcare professions, like pharmacists and dentists, likewise disappeared after being high on the rankings.

On the other hand, the most dramatic rise in suicide was among coal miners. They went from #29 to #1, and their rates rose about fourfold. This is not that surprising considering what happened to British coal mining during the 80s...

In general the Top 30 in the 1980s had plenty of white collar workers like engineers, chemical scientists and photographers.

Twenty years later, all of the collars had turned blue. Coal miners were joined by labourers, builders, gardeners, butchers, and others. Strikingly there are no 'professionals' on the modern list, with the interesting exception of musicians and artists (a reflection of the mental illness-creativity link?)

What's more, the correlation between socioeconomic status and suicide rates increased sharply over time. Suicide is now much more of a class issue than it was in the past.

The only constant in this sad picture was the sea: merchant sailors had the #2 spot in 1980, and they kept it in 2005, with the rates almost unchanged. However, this should be taken with a pinch of salt, because the way British suicides at sea are recorded is a bit unusual.

Roberts SE, Jaremin B, and Lloyd K (2012). High-risk occupations for suicide. Psychological medicine, 1-10 PMID: 23098158

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