A/E deliverable: suicide

Oct 24, 2016

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows architects and engineers have the fifth highest suicide rate among 22 occupations.

By Richard Massey Managing Editor

A report recently issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sheds light on a concerning statistic for the A/E industry – among the 22 occupations studied, architecture and engineering has the fifth highest rate of suicide at 32.2 per 100,000 population.

Right at double the national rate of 16.1 per 100,000 population, the data for architects and engineers show that 96 percent of suicides are among males, and that 34 percent are between the ages of 35 and 54. Overall, the study shows that farming, fishing, and forestry, at 84.5, has the highest suicide rate, while education and library, at 7.5, has the lowest rate.

The eight-month study was based on information culled from 12,312 suicides in 17 states from 2012. The data is in the National Violent Death Reporting System, a CDC system that collects information from death certificates, coroners, law enforcement, and toxicologists. States included in the study were Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

What makes the CDC report groundbreaking is that for the first time, occupation codes – hashed out by a team of six scientists – were used to categorize the data contained in the National Violent Death Reporting System, or NVDRS. As the new coding system brings shape to suicide rates by occupation, the CDC now has a better understanding of where the biggest problems are.

“We noticed there was a gap in the suicide literature by occupation,” says lead report author Wendy McIntosh.

While the rates were studied, the cause for the rates was not.

“We didn’t look at the narratives, we just looked at the numbers,” McIntosh says.

The American Institute of Architects issued this statement:

“The AIA takes seriously the physical and mental health of architects. All of the ACA-compliant plans offered through our health insurance exchange contain mental health coverage as part of the required EHB or Essential Health Benefits. When an AIA member uses the AIA Trust Health Insurance Exchange, the health plan contains mental health coverage benefits.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers did not respond to The Zweig Letter’s request for comment.

The AIA also had this to say:

“We are investigating the attributes of a truly successful architecture firm culture. These attributes include a focus on professional development and work-life balance. This focus also includes transparency between firm/project leadership and staff, diversity and inclusion, and a conspicuous application of a collaborative studio environment. We are looking for ways to benchmark these factors, provide tools for the profession, and help identify best practices, as well as encourage firms to develop policies to redefine success.”

McIntosh says the team of researchers did not go into the study with any preconceived notions. Their job was to develop the nomenclature, run the numbers, and tally the results.

“We just wanted to look at the data we had available,” she says.

According to a March 2015 report by The Boston Globe, the campus suicide rate at MIT, the nation’s preeminent school for engineers, was higher than the national average. According to the Globe, over the last decade the undergraduate MIT rate was as high as 12.6 per 100,000 students, compared to the national campus average of between 6.5 and 7.5.

In the discussion section of the CDC report, the authors point to general reasons why a person would commit suicide, and those reasons might apply to the A/E industry.

“Occupational groups with higher suicide rates might be at risk for a number of reasons, including job-related isolation and demands, stressful work environments, and work-home imbalance ….”

A big reason why the CDC conducted the report is to identify the problem so that solutions can be found, particularly for people already in their professions.

“The workplace is one of the best places we have to reach an adult,” McIntosh says.

If you are suicidal or if you are around someone who might be suicidal, the free 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255).

About Zweig Group

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