Alarming research shows that serious workplace injuries may have dire implications beyond work — and be linked to suicide rates

People suffering serious workplace injuries often face ongoing physical and mental health issues, but new research suggests their situations outside of work may be even more dire.

An injury severe enough to keep an employee home for at least a week almost tripled the combined risk of suicide and drug overdose death among women, and raised that risk 50% among men, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine on Tuesday.

“Prior research has shown that injured workers are at increased risk of depression, have been treated frequently with opioids, and have suffered long-term earnings losses,” Professor Leslie Boden, the study’s senior author, wrote in a post outlining the study on the Boston University School of Public Health website. “This led us to wonder whether workplace injuries led to increased opioid addiction and suicide.”

A worker is injured on the job every seven seconds, adding up to 4.6 million workplace injuries a year, according to the National Safety Council, with relatively minor sprains and strains, soreness or pain, as well as cuts and punctures being the most common ailments resulting in 104 million lost production days in 2017. But Boden wanted to explore the relationship between more severe occupational injuries and long-term mortality, as a previous study from his team had found that people who had to take at least a week off after getting injured on the job were more than 20% more likely to die from any cause.

Related: Older and Latino workers are far more likely to die on the job than others

So for the new study, his research team analyzed data from more than 100,000 workers in New Mexico who had lost-time injuries (ailments which result in missing at least seven days of work, or a permanent disability) between 1994 and 2000. They also drew on workers’ compensation data during that period, along with Social Security Administration mortality data through 2013, and National Death Index cause of death data through 2017. And they compared the workers who suffered a lost‐time injury with a comparison group of workers with medical-only injuries (which required less than a week off, and entailed no permanent disability).

They found that men with a lost-time injury were 72% more likely to die from suicide, and 29% more likely to die from drug-related causes. Women were even worse off; those with lost-time injuries were 92% more likely to die from suicide, and 193% more likely to die from drug-related causes. The report did not offer an explanation as to why women suffered such worse outcomes, considering that overall, more American men die from opioid overdoses than women. And while more women attempt suicide, men are more likely to die from it, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention — although that gap is closing between boys and girls.

Limitations of the study included only looking at workers in one state. The data provided also didn’t identify mortality risk factors that the workers had before their injuries, such as underlying diseases, BMI and whether they used drugs, cigarettes or alcohol.

Plus, suicides and opioid-related deaths have been rising since the since the 1990s, and this data was based on injuries occurring from 1994 and 2000. U.S. life expectancy has been decreasing over the past few years as rates of suicide and opioid-related deaths have risen. The CDC recently warned that half of the country (25 states) saw suicide rates increase more than 30% over the past two decades. And prescription opioids contributed to more than 100,000 deaths in the U.S. between 2006 and 2012, according to the CDC. Therefore, the new study may even be underestimating the effects of more recent workplace injuries, so further studies are needed with larger populations in other states over a longer period of time.

(If you are in crisis and considering hurting yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, or use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line. You can also reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘Home’ to 741741.)

Related: U.S. life expectancy drop continues worst trend in 100 years — pinned in part on drug overdoses, suicides

Almost one in 10 injured employees who missed work for at least five days were diagnosed with depression in the year after they got hurt, according to a 2016 Canadian study. And about half of these workers — who were not diagnosed with depression in the year before the injury — felt depressed at some point during the year after the injury. This could be caused by the financial burden of the injury and stress over the patient’s ability to work; difficulty maneuvering workers’ compensation claims; and the chronic pain and difficult recovery process from a severe injury.

Boden also recommended improved pain management methods, as well as “better treatment of substance-use disorders, and treatment of post-injury depression,” which could “substantially improve quality of life and reduce mortality from workplace injuries.”

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