Suicide in the US: a more detailed view

The article on physician suicide last week prompted two questions:

  • Where does the US rank among the 196 countries on the rate of suicide?
  • Which occupations are the worst for suicide?

The US ranks below middle among countries on rate of suicide.

The bottom is Guyana (43.2 per 100,000 people) and the Koreas (North is 37.4 and South is 29.3). The top is Saudi Arabia in which suicide is virtually unknown and Syria (0.4 per 100,000). In Syria, there are simply too many other ways to die right now.

The US rate is 12.4, which puts us at 47th worst among the 162 countries reporting data. By comparison, Canada’s rate is 10.0, Germany’s in 9.6, UK’s is 6.3, Italy’s is 4.8, and Mexico’s is 4.2. The US rate is probably higher, due to a tendency to misclassify suicide as something else for insurance purposes or family reputation. That may be true of other countries, but the insurance incentive doesn’t apply to most.

The latest data for suicide by occupation for the US comes from 2012, and only covers 17 states due to reporting inadequacies from the rest.(2) In that year, there were approximately 40,000 suicides, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death among persons age 16 and older.

According to the CDC’s analysis, the worst occupations and suicide rates in total were:

  • Farming, fishing and forestry (84.5 per 100,000)
  • Construction and mining (53.3)
  • Installation, maintenance and repair (47.9)

These are all blue collar occupations, hit hard by the recession of 2008.

Females were much less likely to commit suicide than males. The worst occupations for females were:

  • Public safety (14.1)
  • Legal (13.3)
  • Healthcare (13.1)

The lowest rate overall was in education/training/library science (7.5).

And while we worry about teen suicide, the highest overall rate of suicide was among 45-54 year olds (22.7) and the lowest among those in the 16-24 age group (11.6). Those in middle age in the US commit suicide at a higher rate than the average in India.

The “richest country in the world” apparently isn’t a happy place for a lot of people.




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