Work-related suicide gains some fresh media recognition

On 4 November 2011, Victoria’s 7.30 program broadcast a heart-rending story about the suicide of a woman who, her mother believes, took this action after suffering chronic pain due a work-related incident and being given insufficient support from her employer and workers’ compensation bodies.  The story of Rebecca Wallis (spelling uncertain) apparently generated sufficient communication to the Australian Broadcast Corporation for 7.30 to undertake a follow-up and more broad look at the relationship between workers compensation and suicide.

One of the people interviewed in the 11 November 2011 program was John Bottomley of the Creative Ministries Network.  Bottomley has published several research reports on work-related deaths and suicides.  The figures he mentions in the report, that around 30% of the work-related suicides identified in his research had a “work injury or work-related mental illness” as a contributory factor, are included in the online publication from 2002, “Work Factors in Suicide“.  What is not mentioned is another statistic in his report:

“Nine people (8%) were on workers’ compensation when they committed suicide.” (page iii)

The Victoria-specific statistics mentioned in the 7.30 report were taken from Bottomley and Neith’s 2010 report “Suicide and Work: The Need for Improved Data Collection On Work Factors in Suicide as a Contribution to Suicide Prevention” (not available online).  This report had a smaller sample but still found that

“Of 58 people who had a compensable claim for attempted suicide or suicide from 1985-86 to 2006-007 (21 years), 21 claims were for suicide, and of these, ten had no previous WorkCover claim, and eleven had at least one WorkCover claim prior to the death claim for workers’ compensation.” (page 4)

The relationship between suicide and work is clearly established, it is only the magnitude that requires additional clarification.

Bottomley and Neith identified causal factors:

“The data identified a number of risk factors for suicide for injured workers on workers compensation. These included the length of time on compensation, the vulnerability of younger workers, the emergence of psychological symptoms of mental illness for those initially presenting with physical injury, and the possibly that workers from blue-collar occupations may be more at risk of suicide than other occupations.” (page 4)

For anyone still doubting the need to address the psychosocial hazards of workplace, the report found that

“Mental injury, stress or psychological injury was almost always identified as the primary cause of suicide, whether the person had one claim or more than one claim.  However, most of the eleven suicides with more than one claim first came on to the workers compensation system with a physical affliction.  Their later mental injury or stress affliction may have been caused by their physical injury, the subsequent loss of economic security, social connection and meaning for their live, or their experience on workers compensation, or various combinations of all of these factors.” (page 4)

There is a clear need to address the psychological needs of people in the workforce and to assess and manage workers compensation claims carefully and sympathetically.  Yossi Berger described this in the TV program as obtaining a “corporate heart”.

The TV program quotes from the 2010-11 Annual Report of the Coronial Council of Victoria on suicides but the full quote is:

Suicide is a leading cause of death in Australia, resulting in more fatalities than the road toll.  The rate of suicide is thought to be underestimated due to issues with the reporting process, of which coronial findings form a part.  There is a clear need for quality suicide statistics to be available to underpin public health initiatives including suicide prevention activities.” [emphasis added]

SafetyAtWorkBlog will continue to follow and report on issues related to work-related suicide as I believe that decades of silence on suicide and the social stigmatisation of suicide  has impeded the development of tools to reduce the likelihood of this workplace issues.

The OHS profession needs to apply a coordinated strategy to the causal factors of work-related suicides.  As discussed in an earlier article, The silo categories of workplace mental health must be dismantled or the disparate control measures will impede each other.  Workplace bullying, stress, fatigue, depression, public mental health …….. must be analysed under the umbrella category of mental health so that the development of adequate and effective control measures does not become distracted by sectional interests of various narrowly targeted lobby groups and fundraisers.

Work-related suicide is a reality and we cannot begin to reduce the likelihood without first acknowledging this reality and begin to coordinate efforts.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

12 thoughts on “Work-related suicide gains some fresh media recognition”

  1. Speaking from experience, I can tell you how Workers compensation has left me homeless, divorced, and looking for my place in the world. I broke my back Feb 2, 2008. I was a class A mechanic who was reduced to a cripple. It was witnessed by my supervisor, me stepping out of the service truck and landing on my back. I reported the fall thinking nothing bad would happen, just bruising. I woke up 2 days later and couldnt feel my legs. Went to their doctors and found I had broken my back in 2 places, both inoperable. I laid up and did everything they told me to do thinking I would heal. I was that 10% that doesn’t heal correctly. I went back to work was criticised for my lack of work productivity and my lack of health improvement. It got worse not better. I pushed myself to try to meet their standards and never could. My home life started to feel the effects of my anger of the treatment by management, my son and wife started to dislike being near me. I started counseling and on the anniversary of my accident a year later admitted myself to a hospital for suicidal thoughts. I didn’t have one plan I had 4. I wanted the pain to end, the lack of being a man and not being able to provide for my family, the harrassment at work and the loss of friends because I was angry alot.
    When I got out of the hospital it was like sharks smlling blood work became horrible. They had me clean toilets, fuel trucks and alot of other things that hurt me emotionally and physically. I got in a motorcycle accident and the company fired me while in the ICU. That was the straw that broke the camels back. I went deeper into depression my wife kicked me out and kept my son. I had no $ to fight in the divorce, so i lost everything I cared for. The day I broke my back I consider the day the gun was loaded, I have not pulled the trigger yet but everyday it crosses my mind. I suffer so my son doesn’t think suicide is the answer. Workers Comp hasn’t paid me for years and I have to wait to get in front of a judge to ever see that money. Where I used to work people get hurt and claim it on their insurance not workers comp because they saw how i was treated. Is work place injuries a trigger for suicide yes. Does workers comp make it worse, definately. From a person not talking about someone who did commit suicide, this is from the person who contemplates it daily. This sytem needs to be regulated and changes made. If the company had showed me some respect and helped me to feel some worth at work my life may be different, but the reality is the money I was costing them is all they saw.

  2. For mine, there is an obvious, nay bleedingly obvious need for all OHS regulators to investigate any suicide at a workplace in the context of any other workplace fatality, i.e. gathering evidence on the presumption it may be used in a prosecution. It has happened of course, but I’m guesttimating too many slip through to the keeper. The enforcement spotlight needs to be trained on to clear evidence of managerial negligence that leads to the ultimate horrible expression of that negligence.

  3. Thanks for posting this. We hear so much about bullying is schools, but I never really thought about bullying in the workplace. Thanks for making me aware of this important issue and its effects

  4. I agree with your last comment here . Thank you. Yes, ALL stakeholders need to be aware, educated regarding Psychological issuers in the workplace. As in (mis}perception I can only speak from experience in dealing with many who have stated what I said, and openly speak of such. Yes it is a huge challenge and multifaceted. There is change needed and as soon as can be realised before more are injured from workplace abuse.

  5. “Common misperception of the HR profession?” They used draconian methods of trying to make the bully and I to “get along” 10 minutes of her tearing me down without me interrupting with NO documentation. I had 10 minutes of documentation, times, dates and instances that she interrupted 3 times!

  6. I was workplace bullied for two years. The last six months after I finally contacted HR I had under performance reviews. NEVER had them before. I was the best and worked there 13yrs. Management, HR and even the CEO failed me. I considered suicide but asked for help instead outside of work. Bet they wouldn’t care if I did it. They did NOT want to impliment policies to prevent workplace bullying. They just want the targets to go away. Unfortunately, the targets are usually the best of the best. The replacements don’t even compare.

  7. I have been researching watching and listening for a long time about this one issue. I am tired, frustrated of all the so called research and guidelines that all talk about ,when in fact in reality they do not always work if at all.in most organizations dare I say Govt as well! . The processes that a person goes through that is bullied in a workplace is horrendous for most. Fact! The organizations through HR and also their lawyers often deliberately do anything to and stop the claims. The target of workplace bullying is further persecuted, yes persecuted. Now this may sound a little confronting, but I speak truth here and can back up what I am saying in documentation. It is about money! This so often appears to be is the bottom line. When it comes to standards and procedures actually being tested in a workplace, ore often than not they not worth the paper they are written on. Looks good for the organizations they are seen to be “Doing something”and taking the issue seriously! At the other end of this I suggest most strongly you speak to real people, about what happened to them when they did lodge a claim for workplace abuse. This would be the reality! Bullying in workplaces is not addressed adequately ignored, the target is persecuted further for daring to speak up and lodge a Claim, the bully is protected, the target goes throught under performance and or a trumped up Misconduct to get rid of them and shut them up or leave the organization. This is reality! The targets mental health is affected, career and reputation ruined, isolated from colleagues, relationships in tatters, and more than often is the case financially ruined. Frequently, the target is “NOT HEARD”by HR, the Insurers. ” Paid hired guns” used by the organizations to undermine the Claim and target through any investigations. What I have stated here is the tip of the iceberg so to speak. There is far more I could say. I wonder if you will actually put this on now I have spoken about the realities of so called processes, guidelines and standards. These need to be put in place with real meaning. Law reform regarding this need to be looked at as well. After all I have mentioned above which is reality for many, no wonder they are driven to such extremes as suicide. I am not making an excuse for suicide but if you or anyone really understood about severe stress etc you would know how the brain works and under severe stress etc one can and does depersonalize and then the outcome can be Suicide etc

    1. Every time SafetyAtWorkBlog posts an article concerning work-related suicide or workplace bullying, I am inundated with comments that are often defamatory or that air grievances or that provide details of workers compensation claims and dealings that cannot be independently substantiated for lots of reasons.

      This inundation is a consequence of my writing about workplace bullying and work-related suicide but please note that the blog comments are moderated by me and will not be published unless the comments relate to the topic in the main article, provide an illustration of the work problem or provide constructive suggestions for control measures.

    2. The comment above has been allowed, in this instance, because it illustrates a common (mis?)perception of the human resources profession, the safety profession, insurance companies and safety regulators.

      Considerable work is required from all the stakeholders in workplace mental health and safety to reintroduce a heart and a humanity into the management of psychosocial issues in the workplace. It is a huge challenge and one that no one is yet addressing as part of a broad and sustainable strategy.

  8. Finally some one is looking at this and the REALITY and often sad outcome of workplace bullying etc. I had a friend do this because of workplace bullying. She was engaged to be married and the harrowing treatment she received at work plus the process of going though a Compensation Claim destroyed her to the point of SUICIDE. Finally some one is taking workplace Injury, particularly psychological injury seriously.

    1. I think it is important to note that the research into work-related suicide is not as new as it appears. Bottomley’s original research was over 10 years ago. WorkSafe Victoria’s guidance on workplace bullying stemmed from an ACTU member survey last century. The current spike of attention is only the latest in a series that, usually, correspond with each new release of research data.

      What needs to happen is that the issue attracts some sustained attention and continuing policy development. As I said in the article, this won’t occur until there is coordination between the various silos of psychosocial analysis and support, workplace safety organisations and government agencies.

      It may be useful to watch the efforts of the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research as it is well place to progress the workplace psychosocial agenda.

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