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To Protect and Serve: Suicide in the American Workforce

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tracy Rickman, Ygnacio Flores and Don Mason
May 11, 2019

If you think heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults in the United States, you are correct. Of the four causes of death—natural, accidental, suicide, and homicide—suicide is on the rise in America. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in 2016, almost 44,000 Americans died by suicide. While this is an alarming statistic, within this population the per capita rate of suicide for our guardians is alarming. Veterans, law enforcement and fire service personnel protect and serve the public and in doing so suffer a disproportionate number of suicides due to a belief that these individuals are immune to the stressors of their career fields.

From 1999 to 2010, it was reported that 22 veterans were dying a day. This equates to almost one suicide every 65 minutes. Likewise, other public safety career fields have similar experiences with suicide. In 2017, the Ruderman Foundation found that 46 law enforcement officers were fatally shot in the line of duty as compared to 140 officers that committed suicide. When this is further compared to a total of 129 officers killed in the line of duty from all sources, there were still more suicides than line-of-duty deaths. In 2018, 158 officers died as a result of suicide. Firefighters committed 103 suicides in 2017. These findings ask an important question: Why are our guardians committing suicide?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2016, there was a steady increase in workplace suicides from 2007 to 2013. The BLS report showed that in the years 2011 to 2013 the largest age group committing suicide was 45 to 50 years of age, accounting for nearly 3,500 suicides out of a total of 13,906 suicides recorded in the study.

The rise in suicide is echoed by the CDC, which considers suicide the tenth leading cause of death in America. This statistic is expected to increase. The CDC reported that in 2015 the top three major occupational groups experiencing suicide among males were:

  1. Construction and extraction.
  2. Arts, designs, entertainment, sports, and media.
  3. Installation, maintenance, and repair.

And among women as:

  1. Arts, designs, entertainment, sports, and media.
  2. Protective services.
  3. Health care support.

A 2018 Veterans Administration (VA) Report found veteran suicide rates are still higher than civilian rates. In 2016, almost 44,000 veterans died by suicide. In 2018, the military saw the most suicides than in the past six years. The United States Marines, in 2018, saw more than a 25 percent increase from 2017 in active duty suicides. The United States Army experienced the highest numbers as compared to other services.

In response to the growing trend of suicide in the workplace, administrators must now include support services to mitigate suicide among their employees. Health programs need to include mental health and mindfulness programs. Administrators can no longer look at suicide as an individual issue, and instead need to attack this trend with strategic efforts in support of those that look at suicide as a means to solve their life problems. Even though there are avenues for prevention and treatment, the paradigm for recognizing and responding to potential suicide has to be changed. An individual should not be expected to deal with suicidal ideations alone.

The VA Suicide Prevention Program stated that they have answered over two million calls related to suicide since 2016. They received notification using over 275,000 chat connections and dispatched over 60,000 emergency responders for imminent suicidal attempts.

Public administrators can take a proactive role in supporting efforts to reduce suicide. To begin, they can prominently post information on suicide prevention in breakrooms and other common areas. Administrators can also add suicide prevention to the agenda at staff meetings as well as hosting days of awareness where suicide prevention organizations can present their services. The services an administrator provides have to be supported by the organization and should include the employee as well as the employees’ families. 

An example would be the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides the caller with free confidential support from a network of local crisis providers. They are a network of people that support those contemplating suicide.

Although first responders go into harm’s way without regard to their own safety, they too need to be supported too. Public administrators can be heroes to those that respond daily to meet the needs of others. Veterans and first responders are hesitant to voice their fears, as this may limit their career aspirations or cause them to be viewed as less “invincible.” The result is a sense of embarrassment, loss of hope, despair—all having the potential to end with tragic consequences.

We end this article not sitting in judgment, but as a call to action for administrators to be aware of their duty and the diligence required to protect those that protect society as well as those that work in their offices on a daily basis.  

The following is a list of confidential resources:

http://www.revivingresponders.com/needhelpnow

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://afsp.org/

https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/


Authors: 
Ygnacio “Nash” Flores
Tracy Rickman
Don Mason

 

 

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

One Response to To Protect and Serve: Suicide in the American Workforce

  1. Deborah T. Johnson, MPA Reply

    May 13, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    ABSOLUTELY great article! Thank you for bringing awareness to suicide in the workforce!

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