What is the association between occupation and suicide risk among working Canadians?

In brief

  • With a few exceptions, the characteristics of specific occupations do not influence the risk for suicide in Canada.
  • For men, nine occupational groups have an elevated risk for suicide; for women, there are four occupational groups with an elevated risk.

Published: January 2010

Why was this study done?

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in developed countries. A suicide death can profoundly impact family members, friends and society as a whole. In Canada, about 70 per cent of all suicides occur in adults who are between the ages 30 and 64. This study sought to explore whether there was a connection between occupation and risk of suicide among Canadian workers.

How was the study done?

The researchers created a database that linked a 15 per cent sample of Canadians who completed the long form of the 1991 Canadian Census to the Canadian Mortality Database for the years 1991 to 2001. The census provides self-reported information on income, labour force participation and disability. The Canadian Mortality Database contains copies of death registrations documented by provincial vital statistics registrars of death. In total, the study cohort contained record linkages for more than two million Canadians.

What did the researchers find?

Over the study period, 1,932 working men and 428 working women committed suicide. There was a limited number of associations between occupational groups and suicide risk in this study. For men, there was an elevated risk for nine occupational groups: nursing, therapy or assisting-related work; farm, horticulture or animal husbandry; forestry or logging; clay or stone processing; excavating or paving; other services; water and motor transport operating; and library, museum or archival sciences. For women, an elevated risk was found in four groups: office machine operating; other services; physical sciences and metal machining.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

The researchers created a unique database that linked information from the Canadian Census and the Canadian Mortality Database. More than two million Canadians were included in the database. One limitation is the information on occupation was gathered at the time the database was created. Information on subsequent changes in occupation was not available. Also, there was no access to information on behavioural risk factors such as alcohol abuse, which can be associated with suicide risk.