New data reveals suicide prevalence in England by occupation

17 Mar 2017 03:35 PM

Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis reveals which professions have the highest risk of suicide.

ONS analysis commissioned by Public Health England (PHE) presents national suicide rates broken down by occupation for the first time in England.

An analysis of ONS suicide prevalence statistics for 2011 to 2015 has been carried out to gain a better understanding of factors that influence suicide, in order to inform the government’s Suicide Prevention Strategy and help identify where inequalities exist amongst different groups.

To coincide with this, Public Health England (PHE), Business in the Community (BITC) and Samaritans have joined forces to produce toolkits for employers on how to prevent suicide and how to minimise the impact when it does happen.

The new ONS analysis shows that suicides are less common for females than males, and that there are differences in the types of occupation where suicide is more common. For women, occupations with a high risk of suicide include nurses (23% above the national average), primary school teachers (42% above average) and those working in culture, media and sport (69% above average).

For men, low skilled labourers in construction had a risk that was 3 times higher than that the average for England; men working in skilled construction jobs also had an increased risk. Both male and female care workers have a risk of suicide that was almost twice the national average.

The toolkits produced by PHE, BITC and Samaritans include advice on steps employers can take action to prevent suicides and support them and their teams when responding to the death of an employee caused by suicide.

Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of PHE, said:

Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50, and more women are taking their own lives each year. Death by suicide is never inevitable, but for a person who is overwhelmed by feelings and events that appear insurmountable, it can seem like the only answer.

People who die from suicide are usually not in contact with health services, and often push through in silence as their ability to cope deteriorates. With more than two-thirds of adults in employment, the workplace offers an opportunity to reach people who need extra support.

I urge all employers, large or small, public or private sector to treat mental health as seriously as physical health. Early action can stop any employees reaching a desperate stage. Simple actions can make a huge difference - talking with a manager or colleague can help people get the support they need, and ultimately save lives.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in people aged 20 to 64 in England, and is the biggest killer of young people between 20 and 34. There were 18,998 deaths caused by suicide in England between 2011 and 2015.

Important actions employers can take include introducing specialised suicide awareness prevention training for managers, mental health first aid training, and using internal communications as a function to foster a culture of openness about mental health.

Suicide in the workplace is extremely uncommon, but the postvention toolkit is there to help employers respond. There is no single or right way to act when this happens, but effective postvention plans can ensure that timely and appropriate care and support is provided for those affected.

Ruth Sutherland, Samaritans Chief Executive said:

We spend a third of our lives at work and one-fifth of us experience suicidal thoughts, so these resources are much needed. We shouldn’t stop there though, it is up to us to create a culture in our workplaces where people feel safe enough to talk about their feelings and get support if they need it.

The effects of suicide can be devastating and they can reach far beyond immediate family and friends. Samaritans is proud to have worked with Public Health England, Business in the Community and other partners on these resources.

Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director of BITC, said:

As well as looking after the mental health of their staff, employers need to have preparations in place to ensure that if the worst happens, they have the knowledge and skills to minimise harms. This way they can help everyone deal with the devastating consequences of suicide as best they can. That’s where these toolkits come in. Both make a compelling business and moral case for employers to act responsibly and support employees to feel comfortable discussing these issues.

Download the suicide prevention toolkit for employers.

Download the suicide postvention toolkit for employers.

For more information on the government’s suicide prevention strategy, read Suicide prevention: third annual report.

Contact Naomi Ramage on 020 3682 0132 or Sean Kelleher on 020 7654 8096) at PHE for further information.

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Telephone 020 7654 8400

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  1. The Samaritans have produced a set of guidelines for journalists on responsible and sensitive reporting of suicide.

  2. You don’t have to be suicidal to call the Samaritans. Whatever you’re going through, call them free any time from any phone on 116 123 (this number is free to call and will not appear on your phone bill), email, or visit to find details of your nearest branch.

  3. ONS have released data on suicide by occupation in England from 2011 to 2015. This analysis compared occupational suicide rates to the overall rate in England. The ‘national average’ refers to the rate of suicide in the broader population of England among men or women aged 20 to 64 years.

  4. Definitions of different types of construction workers:
    • Low skilled construction workers assist the work of woodworking and building trade workers, electricians, plumbers, and painters and perform a variety of general laboring and construction tasks.
    • Skilled construction and building trades erect steel frames, lay stone, brick and similar materials, construct and repair roofs, install heating, plumbing and ventilating systems, fit windows, doors and other fixtures, and apply coverings and decorative material to walls, floors and ceilings.
  5. Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Follow us on Twitter: @PHE_uk and Facebook:

  6. The occupations reported in the analysis are based on the information provided by the informant at the time of death registration. The recorded occupation likely reflects the deceased’s main lifetime occupation or their occupation at the time of death. It is also possible that, when they died, the deceased was retired, unemployed, or in a different job altogether. The results of the research should be interpreted bearing in mind several important limitations, which are discussed in the ONS report.