Australian suicide research expands understanding of workplace factors

Research is intended to provide answers but sometimes it can only provide clues. But clues allow progress and flag peripheral issues that could possibly become mainstream.  Social research into the possible workplace influences on suicide is one area of clues and, again, the Creative Ministries Network (CMN) has undertaken solid research into the worst-case scenario of workplace mental health advocates.

Recently CMN released “Suicide and Work“, it’s March 2010 research report. The accompanying media release said:

“Of eleven suicides where the deceased person had at least one prior WorkCover claim prior to their death, the length of time on workers’ compensation was positively correlated with increased probability of suicide. The data is not able to indicate what it is about the length of time on compensation that may be critical to whether an injured worker commits suicide.

The WorkCover data also suggests a number of other risk factors for suicide for injured workers on workers compensation. The data also points to:

  • The vulnerability of younger workers.
  • The emergence of psychological symptoms of mental illness for those who initially received compensation for a physical injury.
  • The possibility that workers from blue-collar occupations may be more at risk of suicide than other occupations.

Most of these eleven workers first came onto the WorkCover system with a physical injury. Their later mental injury or stress injury may have been caused by their physical injury, the subsequent loss of economic security, social connection and meaning for their life, or their experience on workers compensation, or various combinations of all these factors.”

It is of particular interest that many initial claims are due to physical injuries from work.  This implies that something in the period of rehabilitation added a psychosocial element.  Some workplace rehabilitation activists would likely claim that poor management of compensation cases by insurers have contributed but the current research reports identifies a pool of possible factors.  Sometimes the multidisciplinary reality of life negates the ability to identify the “root cause” and we must accept that, particularly in the case of suicides, definitive answers are unattainable.

It is possible to read the report as a call for greater detail in suicide investigations and greater co-operation between databases but there is enough information for OHS professionals, HR professionals and safety managers to add an additional risk element to the OHS and wellness programs in their workplaces.

Copies of the report, Suicide and Work” are available for download by clicking HERE

Kevin Jones

2 thoughts on “Australian suicide research expands understanding of workplace factors”

  1. Having read this research document and knowing the levels of grief that envelopes injured workers I was left angry and frustrated by the information within the document.

    I was please to see that there are 2 very clear recommendations for further research.
    I would have liked the recommendations to have gone further towards support within a social justice program for injured workers and their families, but that mayhaps be another research document.

    However with all the information in regard to workplace suicide coming out, and a number of injured workers having to declare themselves bankrupt due to the changes within the South Australian legislation as well as a raft of other schematic issues Work Injured Resource Connection and Minimisation of Suicide Harm have started the process of putting a Summit in place to work towards putting forward a number of soluitions so that injured workers can be supported by the WorkCover process that they find themselves in.

    The working date for the Summit is March 4th 2011.

    As soon as I have a framework, I will be happy to discuss the Summit with everyone.

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