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Researchers find link between work-related disability and suicide or self-harm

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Melbourne, Australia — People who are unable to work because of a disabling on-the-job injury or illness are at greater risk for suicide or self-harm, according to the results of a recent research review.

Looking at 47 studies from 16 different countries and published after 2000, researchers at Monash University identified in 44 of them a link between work-related injuries or illnesses and an elevated risk for suicide or self-harm. The risk was particularly higher among employees with workers’ compensation claims, on long-term sick leave and receiving disability payments.

“Looking across all of this evidence, we also found a number of things that increase the risk of suicide, such as being off work for a long time, younger age, living alone, and having a history of poor health or a mental health condition,” study co-author and professor Alex Collie said in a press release.

Collie and co-author Shannon Elise Gray recommend that employers and governments focus on identifying workers at greatest risk of suicide. They also recommend increased suicide prevention efforts and a greater use of services or programs designed to reduce time off from work.

“When it comes to reducing time off work, we know what good interventions look like,” Collie said. “This review adds another dimension and suggests by supporting sick and injured workers to return to work, we may also be able to reduce the risk of suicide.

“Suicide prevention should not be left just to the health care system. We have opportunities through systems that support sick and injured workers, like workers’ compensation and social security, to identify people who are at higher risk and to provide supports and services that reduce those risks.”

The study was published online in the journal PLOS Global Public Health.

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