Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) Suicide Among Social Workers in the United States: Characteristics and Circumstances of Social Worker Suicide (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

736P (see Poster Gallery) Suicide Among Social Workers in the United States: Characteristics and Circumstances of Social Worker Suicide

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Meredith Canada, MSW, PhD Student & Adjunct Faculty, Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN
Sadaaki Fukui, PhD, Associate Professor, Indiana University, IN
Background and purpose: The literature suggests that social workers may have a high risk of suicide compared to the general population. Indeed, social work is well-known for being a stressful profession, which may cause mental health challenges. However, there are only a few studies that empirically examined suicide among social workers with small sample sizes and few variables. The current study explored the characteristics of social workers’ suicide cases using a national dataset with extended variables; we compared their characteristics to the suicide cases of individuals in other occupations than social work (non-social worker cases). The current study has significant implications to support social workers who might be at risk for suicide.

Methods: The current study is a secondary data analysis using Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) (years 2003 to 2017). The original data contained 290,703 violent death cases with 600 data elements/variables. Using the victim’s industry/occupation variables, we identified all social worker cases who died by suicide in the dataset. In order to compare the characteristics of suicide cases between social workers and non-social workers, we randomly selected the equal number of non-social worker cases from the dataset. We first conducted descriptive statistics. Then using bivariate analyses, we examined whether there were any differences between social worker and non-social worker cases for demographics, mental health diagnosis, means of death, as well as circumstances which led to death.

Results: Four hundred and eighty-six social worker cases were identified as having died by suicide or intentional self-injury. The average social worker’s age was 50.6 (SD=14.5) years at the time of death. 62% of individuals were female, 83% White, 70% never married, separated, divorced, or widowed, 74% lived in rural areas, 49% had masters or higher educational degrees, and 42% had multiple mental health diagnoses. In comparison to the non-social worker cases, social workers were more likely to die from poisoning while non-social worker cases were more likely to die by firearms (X2(3)=56.2, p<.001). Social worker cases were more likely to have a history of ever being treated for a mental health or substance abuse problem (X2(1)=59.55, p<.001), received treatment for mental health or substance abuse treatment (X2(1)=52.0, p<0.001), have a history of suicide attempts (X2(1)=20.8, p<.001), and have physical health problem(s) that might lead to their death (X2(1)=4.4, p<.05).

Conclusion and implication: Relatively high proportion of social workers had multiple mental health diagnoses (42%). It may be that social workers who died by suicide might had pre-existing mental health issues that were destabilizing and left them vulnerable to suicide despite their social work occupation. Social workers are more familiar with mental health services than the general populations and may proactively seek help. In fact, our data showed that nearly half of social workers (55%) had the history of receiving mental health or substance abuse treatment, yet these efforts might not be enough to prevent their death. The social work implications will be discussed to prevent future social worker suicide.