Behavioral Health at Work
For many, our careers define part of who we are: the work itself, who we have daily interactions with, how much time we spend with our friends and families, the way we dress, and of course the very practical realities of how we support ourselves and put food on the table. Add to that list our behavioral health. From a mental health perspective, all jobs are not equal – how we make a living also determines how we live.
Work in certain industries can take a heavy toll on an individual’s behavioral well-being. Think of the solitary dangers of construction workers or miners, who face perilous conditions on every job. Think of tip-dependent workers in the service economy, relying on their outward presentation to make ends meet. Think of the police officers, firefighters, and EMTs who see trauma every day. Now imagine living and working with these extra stresses for years on top of the many other risk factors for mental health disorders that we all face.
Although this is far from an exhaustive list of high-risk industries for behavioral health challenges, below are examples of some careers which pose substantial mental health dangers.
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the construction and extraction industry has the highest rate of suicide among occupational groups – 43.6 and 53.2 per 100,000 respectively. These are alarming numbers, especially when compared with the suicide rate for the entire U.S. in 2017: 14.0 per 100,000. Construction and mining workers are exposed to a number risk factors intrinsic to their industry. These include isolation due to the transient nature of much of the work, stress and potential trauma from the routine danger which workers in these fields are exposed to, and a persistent culture of stoicism and self-reliance that can prevent individuals from seeking help.
- Nearly 13% – almost twice the general population – of commercial airline pilots show signs of depression. Yet rather than target this group for additional support the aviation industry relies on self-disclosure of behavioral health conditions without any guarantee that doing so will not cost a pilot their job.
- Service occupations put workers in this industry at greater risk of mental illness because the nature of the jobs themselves increase risk factors: long hours with little or no control over scheduling, inconsistent wages, the lack of reliable benefits, and the incessant pressure to compartmentalize any behavioral health symptoms in order to “keep up appearances” and secure a tip. A study last year on “precarious work” in the service industry found that women in particular who rely on tips are more likely to report symptoms of depression than those doing nonservice work.
- First responders face situations that are extremely emotionally and mentally taxing as a regular part of their jobs – responding to disasters, providing support to survivors, risking their own health and lives, and more. This exposure puts first responders at a greater risk of experiencing trauma. According to a Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) research bulletin from last year, first responders develop depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other behavioral health issues more frequently than the general population, as well as having higher rates of suicide attempts and ideation.
Every workplace should look after the behavioral health of its employees, but these industries in particular – and other high-risk occupations – need to step up and lead the way.