Job stress increases chance of men taking their own lives

Media release
14 September 2016

A Deakin University study has found that job stress is associated with increased suicide among men, but not women.

Researchers with Deakin’s Work, Health and Wellbeing Unit, collaborating with others from the French national health & Medical Research Institute and the University of Melbourne, examined the impact of job stress on the likelihood of someone taking their own life by comparing job stressor exposure among 9000 reported suicide cases to that of 14,000 living control subjects.

The study assessed two job stressors:  the extent to which people get to decide how do to their work, or job control, and job demands, in terms of the level of workload or work pressure.

“We found that low job control in Australian men was associated with a 35 per cent increase in the odds of suicide,” said Professor Tony LaMontagne, senior author of the study and Head of the Work, Health and Wellbeing Unit within Deakin’s Centre for Population Health Research.

“Similarly, among men, the results showed that high job demands were associated with a 36 per cent increase in the odds of suicide.”

Neither low job control nor high job demands were associated with elevated suicide risks among working women.

“Contrary to expectations, there was a suggestion that high job demands were associated with lower odds of suicide among women. This may be a reflection of the low numbers of women in the study, as only 16 per cent of the suicide cases were working females,” Professor LaMontagne said.

“In addition, previous research on nurses in the United States has suggested that the relationship between job stressors and suicide for women is different from men in part because women also experience job stressors from unpaid work (e.g. caring), which is still disproportionately borne by women in Australia as well as many other countries.

“We did not have measures on unpaid work or work family conflict to assess this possibility in our study. Further research is particularly needed among working women, including information on unpaid work and work-life conflict alongside measures of working conditions for paid work.”

The results of this study build on previous work by the research team that showed a relationship between having thoughts of suicide and exposure to bullying at work, low job control, and low job security.

Professor LaMontagne said the findings highlight the need for expanded efforts to improve the psychosocial work environment.

“We know that suicide is four-times more likely to occur among men than it is among women, so the results of this study highlight new modifiable risk factors for male suicide,” he said.

“Workplaces are clearly an important site for suicide prevention initiatives. Our research suggests that prevention activities should target men and include attention to improving working conditions. This can be done through programs addressing suicide or mental health more broadly in the workplace setting, as well as at the policy level. Most importantly, these programs need to address working conditions as well as other important factors such as reducing stigma towards mental illness and how to seek help.”

The study, ‘Low control and high demands at work as risk factors for suicide: an Australian national population-level case-control study’, is published in the international journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

About the study

  • This is the first national population-based study to examine the relationship between job stressors such as job control (the extent to which people get to decide how to do their work) and job demands (the level of workload or work pressure) and suicide, and the largest and most rigorous study of its kind to date internationally;
  • This study used suicide data from the Australian National Coronial Information System (NCIS), and included over 9000 cases of completed suicide among working Australians over the period from 2001—2012;
  • NCIS includes information on job title for those who were employed at the time of death. This allowed the researchers to estimate exposure to job stressors using job title.  Job control and job demands vary significantly by occupation. In a study preceding the current one, the researchers used national data on job stressor exposures to estimate the levels of job control and demand by occupation, then showed that their job title-based exposure estimates were related to mental health, as has been shown in previous studies therefore ‘validating’ their exposure estimation method before applying it to the current study of completed suicides);
  • Using a national study that has been running since 2001, we compared the odds of exposure among (suicide) cases to over 14,000 living control subjects. Job stressor exposure was estimated by job title in both (suicide) cases and control subjects.

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Media release Centre for Population Health Research (CPHR)