Jobs with the highest suicide rates and the people who work them

Jobs with the highest suicide rates and the people who work them

CultureMay 07, 2018

Some jobs are more stressful than others. Some pay better than others. And according to a study done by Bureau of Labor and Statistics, some jobs are more likely to make you sucidial than others, too.

Among the top of the list are construction workers, mechanics, farmers, dentists and healthcare professionals. We asked people in these occupations about their jobs and how suicidal going to work made them feel. And according to the same study, teachers are supposedly the least suicidal amongst us, so we checked in with them as well.

CONSTRUCTION WORKERS

Construction is a huge field that includes industrial construction, home building and many others. About 9.6 million people in the U.S. were employed by the construction industry in 2015.

“Dave” Ortega, 42, is one of them. He says he has been working construction for over 20 years. “It’s what I do,” he shrugs when asked if he likes his job. “It pays the bills. And I keep showing up, so I guess I like it enough.”

Ortega shares that he had known a few construction workers who killed themselves over the years, one coworker and two close friends.

“I don’t think it was all about the job really,” he says. “One of them had a lot of problems — drugs, gambling, and alcohol. Another one killed himself after his wife left. Another one was pretty sudden, but I guess his wife said he’d always had problems with depression.”

Ortega admits he didn’t really think the job was stressful. But he also didn’t really think it was an easy job, either. He doesn’t get benefits like healthcare through work, and says the pay isn’t always great depending on the kind of construction and how much experience you have.

He was pretty surprised seeing the list of most suicidal jobs.

“I kind of thought it would be cops and stuff,” Ortega says. “And teachers, that seems like one of the harder jobs, too.”
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MECHANICS

Mechanics, while considered a blue-collar job, is one that takes a lot of training and expertise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there were well over 700,000 mechanic jobs in the U.S. last year, including auto mechanics, aviation mechanics and heavy equipment mechanics among others.

Matt Hammond, 31, has been a mechanic “forever,” he says, saying that he got his start taking apart and fixing bikes and has been hooked on being a mechanic ever since. He wore a blue baseball cap and smiled shyly as we asked him about his job.

“You can get burnt out doing it,” Hammond shares, adding that he enjoys his job, but it wears on him just like it would anyone else.  

When asked what his least favorite part of the job is, he laughs, “Bleeding hands.” But then goes on to say he enjoys fixing things other people couldn’t.

Hammond doesn’t feel like it’s a stressful job, really, and says he’d never known any other mechanics or heard of any who had committed suicide.

Josh Pitt, 32, says he’s been a mechanic since taking auto shop classes in high school, and has always been interested in cars. He agrees with Hammond, saying his job isn’t really stressful.

“Sometimes, the people can be a bit much, but cars aren’t stressful,” he smirks. “No expectations, no bitching, just machines.”

Pitt adds that he doesn’t always like dealing with customers, especially ones who treat him like he’s dumb.

“I don’t know any mechanics who are depressed because of their job,” he says. “A few who are because of life — divorce or whatever. But I’ve never known any mechanics who committed suicide. I love being a mechanic. I couldn’t do anything else.”

Both men were surprised to learn that mechanics are, statistically at least, more likely to be suicidal.

“I don’t see it,” Pitt shrugs.
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FARMERS

Farming is one of the oldest professions, and there are still over a million farmers or agricultural workers in the United States today. It’s an essential job for the stability of our nation. But, it can be a challenging job as well.

“Sometimes I could see it being a struggle,” Jeff (who asked that we not use his last name), 51, says. He’s been farming his entire life. He loves the job, and he says he was proud to be in work his family has been doing for years.

“Sometimes are really tough though, especially financially,” he admits. “And it’s a lot of work. But you get to be independent and do your own thing a lot. You kind of get to be your own boss.”

Another worker in the industry, a farmhand at a Longmont company for six years (who asked we not use his name because he wasn’t sure if the farm would like him speaking to a magazine), says that his job consists of long hours for fairly low pay. He says he enjoys working outdoors and he gets to work with a lot of his friends and family — he knows a few farmhands who’ve committed suicide or struggled with depression.

“It takes a toll physically on your body also,” he adds.
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DENTIST

“I like being a dentist,” David “Hank” Mears, 38, says. “Even though it can be stressful, I really enjoy it.”

Mears shares that his favorite part of the job is treating children as patients and teaching them the importance of dental hygiene. But he doesn’t like all the paperwork he often has to do because he runs his own practice.

Mears expresses surprise that dentistry was one of the most suicidal jobs.

“I mean, especially if you run your own practice, it can be a lot of stress and can sometimes be unpredictable financially,” he admits.

Still, he says he’d never known anyone who was a dentist who committed suicide, but that he struggled with depression himself a few years ago when he was having a tough time financially.

“Luckily, my family was really supportive and they helped me through that rough patch,” he says.
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HEALTHCARE WORKERS

Abbi Reynolds, 32, is an RN and has been for seven years. She has chin length hair and pulls it into a short ponytail when we speak with her. She works mainly with patients who are recovering from surgery, and says that she enjoys getting to help people.

“It’s so stressful,” she laughs, “but it’s also a really rewarding job. I like when I can make an impact on people and families. And I like that I get to work with a really great team of nurses and doctors and techs every day.”

Reynolds says that having a great team is one of the reasons she thinks nursing is such a great job — though sometimes it’s hard to see so much sickness.

“It’s especially hard to see the way it can destroy lives or families and to see such good people have such bad luck,” she says.

She knows of five or six other healthcare workers who have committed suicide.

“The pay is good, and we get good benefits,” she says. “But usually we work 12 hour days, and it’s 12 hours of running and being on your feet and being in the middle of patients and families and doctors,” pausing to take a deep breath before adding, “still, I enjoy the work.”

Reynolds says she isn’t surprised by the statistics.

“I think that, as a nation, we really neglect emotional health and mental health,” she adds.

Dayna Rick, 24, is also a Registered Nurse. She has long straight blonde hair in a high ponytail and brown eyes and freckles. “Never could get rid of ‘em” she jokes.

Rick has been a nurse for a year, and works in an ER. She says it’s a challenging, stressful job.

“It takes a toll on you physically and mentally,” she says, adding that in the ER she’s seen a lot of heart-wrenching and gruesome things.

“I know a lot of health care workers who have killed themselves or who are on antidepressants,” she shares. “It can be an overwhelming job and a lot of the time, we give and give and give and I feel like we don’t always take the time we need for ourselves.”
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TEACHERS

Missy Blackman, 49, is a sixth grade math teacher who says she’s taught “everything, including Calculus AB” in her 14 years of teaching.

Missy shares that there were a lot of things about teaching that she loved.

“The best part of my job is making lasting relationships with my students and watching them grow into successful adults. I have become good friends with many former student’s mothers also. It is a little bit like and extended family,” she says.

Teaching does have its challenges. “The worst part of my job is dealing with disrespectful student behavior. The kid’s behavior has really deteriorated greatly from what it once was. I get very tired of being talked back to, yelled at, and having everything broken around the room.”

She says that her job is very stressful, which has led to her deciding to leave teaching this year. Negative student behavior, and “little support to correct behavior problems and few effective consequences” are large factors in her leaving as well.

Blackman shared that quite a few of her coworkers were depressed and taking medication to treat it, including herself.

“I have seen teachers have panic attacks often, get physically sick daily, and cry often at school. I have never known anyone to commit suicide,” she said.

Alyssa Rehder, 24, is a preschool teacher with a mixed classroom of three, four, and five-year-old students.

She’s been teaching for four years, and she smiles as she talks about her classes.

Rehder agrees with Blackman that teaching can be a very stressful job.

“It’s very high stress. Sometimes the balancing act of teaching is what's hard. You need to please students, and families, and also the administration and government,” she said.

Rehder says that the meetings and red tape involved with teaching is a part she struggles with.

“A challenge, not necessarily a part of teaching I don’t like, but a challenge, can be behaviors from students. I have a child right now, that I’m losing sleep over wondering how I can reach him and help him. It makes it more stressful,” she says.

Rehder says she discussed with a few close friends who are also teachers the statistics. They weren’t surprised that teaching had the lowest rate of suicide.

“It is high stress,” Rehder reiterated, “but it isn’t a high rate of sadness.”

THE CURE

Rehder shared some insight on why she though the depression rate was so low with teaching, citing the fulfillment of making an impact on children and families.

She added that there were a great many benefits to teaching, like healthcare and the joy of knowing you’re making a difference in the community.

“Paid time off is a really great benefit. Although, during the school year, I work sixty hour work weeks, so it works out. But it is nice to have the breaks — summer, fall, winter and spring,” she said.

She recently was invited by a family who had former students of hers to dinner. She was able to see how they’ve grown and what they’ve accomplished in the two years since they’ve been in her class.

“It’s cool to get those lifelong relationships,” she says, “I can remember my teacher from second grade. And it’s cool to know that I’m making an impact.”

The lifelong relationships may also lead to low depression rates, Rehder believes. And she gets to see so many great “Aha moments” that she reflects on during hard or sad times, which also helps.

At the same time, Reher adds, “I don’t think I could ever work a nine to five job.”

[cover photo by Guilherme Cunha on Unsplash // originally published January 19, 2018]