Western Journal of Emergency Medicine: Integrating Emergency Care with Population Health
Suicide Among the EMS Occupation in the United States
- Author(s): Vigil, Neil H.
- Beger, Samuel
- Gochenour, Kevin S.
- Frazier, Weston H.
- Vadeboncoeur, Tyler F
- Bobrow, Bentley J.
- et al.
Introduction: Suicide claimed 47,173 lives in 2017 and is the second leading cause of death for individuals 15-34 years old. In 2017, rates of suicide in the United States (US) were double the rates of homicide. Despite significant research funding toward suicide prevention, rates of suicide have increased 38% from 2009 to 2017. Recent data suggests that emergency medical services (EMS) workers are at a higher risk of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts compared to the general public. The objective of this study was to determine the proportionate mortality ratio (PMR) of suicide among firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMT) compared to the general US working population.
Methods: We analyzed over five million adult decedent death records from the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance database for 26 states over a 10-year non-consecutive period including 1999, 2003–2004, and 2007–2013. Categorizing firefighters and EMTs by census industry and occupation code lists, we used the underlying cause of death to calculate the PMRs compared to the general US decedent population with a recorded occupation.
Results: Overall, 298 firefighter and 84 EMT suicides were identified in our study. Firefighters died in significantly greater proportion from suicide compared to the US.working population with a PMR of 172 (95% confidence interval [CI], 153-193, P<0.01). EMTs also died from suicide in greater proportion with an elevated PMR of 124 (95% CI, 99-153), but this did not reach statistical significance. Among all subgroups, firefighters ages 65-90 were found to have the highest PMR of 234 (95% CI, 186-290), P<0.01) while the highest among EMTs was in the age group 18-64 with a PMR of 126 (95% CI, 100-156, P<0.05).
Conclusion: In this multi-state study, we found that firefighters and EMTs had significantly higher proportionate mortality ratios for suicide compared to the general US working population. Firefighters ages 65-90 had a PMR more than double that of the general working population. Development of a more robust database is needed to identify EMS workers at greatest risk of suicide during their career and lifetime.