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Seinfeld: Tim Whatley Source

It seems to be a common belief and I have heard it mentioned in movies (e.g. The Whole Nine Yards) and TV shows (e.g. Seinfeld):

Dentists have the highest suicide rate of any profession


I don't really see a reason why dentists should be more suicide prone. There are certainly more stressful professions (physically more demanding, longer hours, more responsibility, ... )


My question:
Are dentists more prone to commit suicide than the general public?

  • 13
    Television dramas aren't the best source of information like this (except for South Park). – Randolf Richardson May 28 '11 at 15:21
  • 1
    Note "of any profession". Using an old fashioned definition of profession as a skilled job requiring education and licensing (thus engineers, architects, doctors, dentists, vets, CPAs,...) you have a very limited group compared to "the general public". That particular meaning has been much diluted in recent decades, but it hangs around in places. – dmckee May 28 '11 at 15:34
  • Not really an answer, but this site may be of interest. – Peter K. May 28 '11 at 17:25
  • There's got to be a profession with the highest suicide rate. So, even if we'd able to confirm that dentists did have the highest suicide rate over the last 10 years, the logical next question would be, "is that coincidence?" – MSalters May 30 '11 at 12:42
8

Here's an article from the American Psychological Association from 2001 that discusses the futility of even trying to measure this:

http://www.apa.org/monitor/jan01/suicide.aspx

Here are some reasons:

  • Only about half the states put occupation on their death certificates. And even when they do, there are questions as to whether the physician, medical examiner or coroner filling in the certificates always gets the occupation or the cause of death right.

  • Often the studies are only of one geographic area, sometimes they have methodological problems, and sometimes they contradict each other

  • In the end, say some researchers, occupation may not be much of a factor in suicide. Psychologists have long documented that among the top predictors for suicide are diagnosable mental disorder, co-morbid substance use, loss of social support and availability and access to a firearm.

So, there's no particular reason to think dentists have the highest suicide rate, although some study somewhere may have come to that conclusion.

  • Heh... Access to firearm. Because societies with NO access to firearms have zero suicide rates. And OBVIOUSLY everyone who owns a gun is likely to off themselves. Like, say, the entire adult population of Switzerland or Israel who's in the military. Things like this makes me want to donate to L. Ron. Hubbard "quacks'r'us" society. – user5341 May 29 '11 at 13:35
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    "Every study that has examined the issue to date has found that within the U.S., access to firearms is associated with increased suicide risk." hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/means-matter/risk/index.html – handsofaten May 29 '11 at 22:56
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    @hands - that study actually provides the REAL reason - if one states the terms preciesely (without trying to make a political point), access to firearms is associated with increased success of attempted suicide - Guns don't cause suicides (which is what the wordage above implies), they merely skew statistics if you only count - like the studies listed - successful attempts. – user5341 May 30 '11 at 3:40
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    @hands (and whoever up-voted his comment) - more specifically, look at this table from the same web site: hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/means-matter/case-fatality/… . Successful gun suicides are <5% of all attempts, with the comments below indicating that total attempts are actually under-counted. – user5341 May 30 '11 at 3:48
  • @DVK - that's an important distinction to make (between increased risk of suicide attempt vs. successful suicide), but I'm not seeing that the article quoted in the answer was trying to politicize this issue. It was ambiguous enough to give some people the wrong impression, but in the context of the article firearms are only mentioned in passing (and literally not till the end of the piece). This seems more like a case of unclear writing than some anti-gun conspiracy at the APA. – handsofaten May 30 '11 at 14:47
5

The Australian Institute of Criminology found, when looking at the patterns of suicide by occupation:

The general pattern in Australia is that those in unskilled and semi-skilled blue-collar occupations which are characterised by low job autonomy, greater external supervision, less on-the-job training, poorer promotional possibilities, lower wage levels and greater sensitivity to market forces tend to have high suicide rates. Furthermore, their suicide rates increase significantly with age. Occupations which are generally high status and have good career paths, and are well paid, have lower suicide rates.

They did not explicitly mention dentists, which I interpret to mean there is no unusual association that needed mentioning when discussing the topic of occupational risk. Thus, it would be expected that Australian dentists have a low suicide risk.

I think it is safe to assume that suicide profiles in Australia are similar to other countries.

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