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Suicide, overdose and worker exit in a cohort of Michigan autoworkers.

  • Author(s): Eisen, Ellen A;
  • Chen, Kevin T;
  • Elser, Holly;
  • Picciotto, Sally;
  • Riddell, Corinne A;
  • Combs, Mary A;
  • Dufault, Suzanne M;
  • Goldman-Mellor, Sidra;
  • Cohen, Joshua
  • et al.


In recent decades, suicide and fatal overdose rates have increased in the US, particularly for working-age adults with no college education. The coincident decline in manufacturing has limited stable employment options for this population. Erosion of the Michigan automobile industry provides a striking case study.


We used individual-level data from a retrospective cohort study of 26 804 autoworkers in the United Autoworkers-General Motors cohort, using employment records from 1970 to 1994 and mortality follow-up from 1970 to 2015. We estimated HRs for suicide or fatal overdose in relation to leaving work, measured as active or inactive employment status and age at worker exit.


There were 257 deaths due to either suicide (n=202) or overdose (n=55); all but 21 events occurred after leaving work. The hazard rate for suicide was 16.1 times higher for inactive versus active workers (95% CI 9.8 to 26.5). HRs for suicide were elevated for all younger age groups relative to those leaving work after age 55. Those 30-39 years old at exit had the highest HR for suicide, 1.9 (95% CI 1.2 to 3.0). When overdose was included, the rate increased by twofold for both 19- to 29-year-olds and 30- to 39-year-olds at exit. Risks remained elevated when follow-up was restricted to 5 years after exit.


Autoworkers who left work had a higher risk of suicide or overdose than active employees. Those who left before retirement age had higher rates than those who left after, suggesting that leaving work early may increase the risk.

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