The Mental Health Association in Michigan

is the only statewide, non-governmental agency concerned with the broad spectrum of mental illness across all age groups.

November 27, 2018

Special Report: Fighting a rise in suicides

Many professional fields see suicide rates above the national average.

Nicole Stromberg, mental health chief at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit, said the VA doesn’t track veteran suicides or attempts by occupation because the vast majority of those at risk are unemployed. All seven veterans under care by the Detroit VA who committed suicide last year were unemployed, she said.

“They were struggling with more chronic adjustment and psychiatric issues,” she said. “They didn’t have a lot of balance (and had feelings of) isolation and depression. They also had easy access to easy means, which are firearms.”

Stromberg said a key goal of mental health counseling is setting personal goals about their futures.

“It is important for them to reconnect with family, resolving criminal justice issues, finding a job, earning money, saving for something important,” said Stromberg, adding that the VA has vocational specialists to help veterans when they are ready.

Business professionals
It can be challenging to study suicide among people in high-profile positions.

When business executives die, especially C-level executives, or celebrities and other highly educated professionals, there is little data to understand differences in those populations and others, said Brian Ahmedani, director of research for Henry Ford’s behavioral health services department.

“The challenge on doing suicide prevention research is you need huge populations to understand the risk factors,” said Ahmedani, who has been a primary investigator for several local and national suicide research projects. “What are the reasons corporate executives die from suicide? There are only so many corporate executives. … There is not enough research on the field to get answers.”

Ahmedani said business professionals develop stress over time with financial decisions that may determine whether a company succeeds or fails. When they fail and a company goes under, people lose their jobs and “there is always somebody who has to take it for the team. You can’t fire the entire company workforce.”

Each day a physician dies by suicide in the U.S. — a number widely acknowledged as the highest rate of suicide of any profession — and 1.4 times that of the general male population for men physicians and 2.3 times that of the general female population for women physicians.

It is possible, say some experts, that overall physician suicide rates are getting close to the national suicide rate of military veterans at 30 per 100,000, which have been treated as an epidemic.

The best data on suicide by business professionals, lawyers and doctors comes from a 17-state study the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted in 2016 on suicides by occupations based on 2012 data. So far, it is the only multi-state study of its kind.

Experts told Crain’s the published CDC data reflects widely held opinions of people in many of the professional fields.

The CDC found the highest rates of suicide for people who are manual laborers, construction workers, miners and mechanics, factory and production workers, ranging from 45 to 85 per 100,000, the highest of any occupational category.

But professionals come in next, above the average suicide rate for the general population: executives, doctors, nurses, medical support workers, business professionals and lawyers.

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