Workplace suicide is on the rise

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workplace suicides surged 28% in 2008 -- perhaps driven by financial stress, job insecurity, and the extraordinary pressure that so many Americans have found themselves under.

Overall though, the death on the job news is good. Workplace fatalities fell by 12% -- but could that have been driven by high unemployment and layoffs in high-risk construction fields that shed jobs as the economy contracted? The USA Today reports that "The 5,071 workplace fatalities recorded in 2008 was the lowest number since the agency began tracking the data in 1992.

Of course, that number includes 251 suicides, the highest number since official reporting began."

As the media works overtime to drum up stories that fit into the recession narrative, it will be tempting to chalk up the increase in workplace suicides to the recession, and that's certainly a possibility. But that headline grabbing statistic is driven by a total of 52 more deaths compared to 2007 which, in the context of the entire country, may or may not be an especially discomforting variation.

On the other hand, there certainly is a track record of increased suicide during times of economic crisis. During the Great Depression, the suicide rate went from 14 deaths per 100,000 people to 17 -- an increase of 21%, which is actually less than the workplace suicide increase reported by the BLS, in spite of the much larger increase in unemployment during the 1930s.
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