Why Don’t “The Most Stressful Jobs” Jive With the Highest Suicide Rates? What are we Missing? (part one)

 

Stressed exec

Each year CareerCast publishes its list of the most stressful jobs (http://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/most-stressful-jobs-2016) according to the Jobs Rated report. And they are as follows. 

Jobs Rated Report defines stress in terms of 11 factors: travel, deadlines, working in the public eye, competitiveness, physical demands, environmental conditions, hazards encountered, the life of oneself or others at risk, meeting and interacting with customers and/or the public, and the potential for job growth.

  1. Enlisted Military Personnel
  2. Firefighter
  3. Airline Pilot
  4. Police Officer
  5. Event Coordinator
  6. Public Relations Executive
  7. Corporate Executive (senior)
  8. Broadcaster
  9. Newspaper Reporter
  10. Taxi Driver

What I noticed however, was that the jobs that were rated as the most stressful were not the jobs with the highest suicide rates. Below is a rank ordered list of the tops ten jobs with the highest suicide rates. The only occupation that is on both lists is Police Officer. 

  1. Physician
  2. Dentist
  3. Police Officer
  4. Veterinarians
  5. Financial Services Broker (Stock Broker)
  6. Real Estate Agent
  7. Electrician
  8. Lawyer
  9. Farmer
  10. Pharmacist

Okay, okay, I know the two list are different and the variables used to rank jobs based on stress level don’t map onto the variables that correlate with suicide. That’s obvious. But why not? 

Why is there such a huge disconnect between the way these two constructs are defined?

Would’t it make sense that those who report the most stress would also be at the most risk for suicide; or wouldn’t one expect at least some overlap? 

What is going on here? 

The short answer is “I don’t really know.” However, based on my experience as a clinician and researcher and the current research literature, I am willing to go out on a limb and give you an educated guess. 

  1. The disconnect is simply due to a lack of agreement on the operational definitions used to generate the two lists.
  2. The stressful jobs list is basically a job satisfaction measure and as the author points out, “employment satisfaction ratings do not necessarily predict whether someone is going to commit suicide” , A. 2015). Point well made…

…but I am still deeply unsettled by this.

While I completely understand that the lack of correlation between the two lists can be adequately explained by differences in measurement, it has prompted me to think about what the heck we are doing as a society. What are we doing as the professionals who are educated, trained and charged with helping people who are hurting? Do others just read this stuff and go on with their day never wondering why those who kill themselves are NOT on the list because they are NOT telling anyone that their job is stressful? 

So, I pulled from the list the professions with which I have the most experience. They are as follows: Airline Pilots, Corporate Executives (senior), Physicians, Stock Brokers, and Lawyers. 

Then I thought about each of these jobs and the things I know about them through my research, my clinical work and the current research literature to see if I could find common threads. I did. 

However, before I continue, I would really like to know what others think about this. When you think about Airline Pilots, Senior Corporate Executives, Physicians, Stock Brokers and Lawyers, what comes to mind?

What are the similarities between these people and the jobs they hold?

Why do Airline Pilots and Senior Corporate Executives report high levels of job stress but do not have high rates of suicide?

Why do Physicians, Stock Brokers and Lawyers fail to report high levels of job related stress yet have such high rates of suicide?

What are your biases?

What in the world is going on with that statistic about active military personnel? Given that the DoD consistently reports active duty suicides rates up to 48% higher than the average population, it seems impossible that “active duty military” is listed at the top of the stress list and missing completely from the suicide list. 

I will publish Part two of this article within two weeks and will include any comments and feedback. I welcome your thinking. If you are uncomfortable posting your comments here, please message me through my Linkedin account: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorie-hood-6315a445

I am reaching out as a professional who is concerned about the biases toward those who are hurting, depressed, addicted, suicidal, and the ways those biases keep people from seeking the help they need. More importantly, I am reaching out as a human being who is as vulnerable as the next person to the stressors brought on by my job and career. If I ever show up on a list of occupations that put me at risk for suicide and am not showing up on a list that says my occupation is stressful, I hope somebody is paying close enough attention to question it.

 

Resources:

http://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/most-stressful-jobs-2016

http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/01/06/top-11-professions-with-highest-suicide-rates/

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If you Really Want to Function at Your Best, Quit the Booze.

wine-glass-1185822_960_720

If you want to perform at the top of your game, give up the booze. Whether you are a litigating attorney, an executive running a company or negotiating a deal, an elite athlete, pilot or other top performer, in order to function at peak levels, abstinence is your friend. If you want to stay at those peak levels, under stress and when the stakes are high, abstinence is imperative.

The detrimental effects of alcohol on human physiology have been well documented. It adversely influences “neural function, metabolism, cardiovascular physiology, thermoregulation and skeletal muscle myopathy” (Vella and Cameron-Smith, 2010, p. 781).

To measure the impact of abstinence on people’s ability to function, a team of researchers at New Scientist decided to work together with those at University College London Medical School to track changes in the body when individuals abstained from alcohol for one month. Their findings were a game changer.

Respondents reported that their sleep quality improved by 10%.

Participants also benefited from a whopping 18% increase in the ability to concentrate.

Take that one to the courtroom or boardroom!

As University of Virginia researcher Lorie Hood puts it, “Many people think that alcohol will help them cope with stress but the opposite is true. Alcohol disrupts sleep, causes cognitive ability to decline and actually increases anxiety” (2015).

Not only did the abstinence experiment show that when people give up alcohol they enjoy an increase in cognitive performance and better sleep, but they also gained improvement in overall health:

“Liver fat decreased an average of 15%, with some participants losing up to 20%.

Accumulation of fat in the liver is a precursor to liver damage — creating inflammation that can lead to liver disease. A reduction this large means that an almost immediate benefit of quitting drinking can help your liver slim down, dramatically reducing your chances of developing cirrhosis or other chronic liver conditions.

Blood glucose levels dropped an average of 16%.

This is incredibly significant among the benefits of the quitting alcohol timeline, since high levels of glucose circulating in the bloodstream are a sign of heightened blood sugar and can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Once those levels get under control, the risk is reduced.

Total blood cholesterol decreased by nearly 5%.

Heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., can be predicted in part by examining patients’ cholesterol levels. While an average decrease of 5% in blood cholesterol might not seem like much, it’s quite significant when achieved as a result of cutting out alcohol.

While researchers and spectators alike guessed that quitting alcohol would have several health benefits, all were surprised at the sheer number and quality of positive outcomes that were observed” (Vella and Cameron-Smith, 2010, p. 781).

So, while you may read that there are some health benefits to drinking a glass or two of wine per day, many researchers and clinicians in the field of human potential and performance agree that alcohol consumption does not lead to increased performance. As Hood puts it, “If you want to achieve and maintain maximum, sustained performance in a high stress, high stakes environment, alcohol is not your friend” (2015).

 

Resources:

Hood, L. (2015). Peak Performance in High Stress, High Stakes Environments [Keynote Speech, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.

Vella, L. D., & Cameron-Smith, D. (2010). Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery. Nutrients2(8), 781–789. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu2080781

What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking?

 

Understand How trauma Changes the Brain

“Spur, spur, spur! Goddammit, Holly! Run him into the Goddamned fence!”

          “He’s trying as hard as he can! He’s scared and confused. Can’t you see?” I scream (in my head).

“Spur him!” Yells my horse trainer, Ray.
          “I can’t do this! If I keep pushing him he is going to run us into the fence.”

It’s 1989. The “us” as in “run us into the fence” to which I am referring is my champion stock horse, “Chances One” and I. It is 1989. I am 16 years old and we are at a nationally ranked horse show in Northern California. One of the horse shows I dreamed of competing in when I was a little girl; with three arenas and stadium the size of a professional football stadium. The kind that are a week long and attended by the rich and careless. Except for me and my parents. We don’t belong here.

Well, we do belong here because I am the top rider in the state of  California and have been since I was fourteen. I should say that I have actually carried the titles of the #1 rider and #1 horse and rider combination in the state of California since I was fourteen; I have been the best rider forever. Strange statement I know. Full of gloat and out of control ego, right? Not from where I stand. It’s just true. It’s a knowing thing. And not just an intellectual understanding that I have the sensitivity, technical skills to communicate with a horse to encourage him to do what I want him to do. I have always known it, felt it and communicated it to the horses I have known; clearly evidenced by the description above of my spurring into Chance’s sweating and trembling sides.

Sarcasm is my friend. It steps in when traumatic memories come up in detail. It protects me from the helpless hole of grief and regret and helps me to get it out of my memory and into my computer’s.

          “Fuck me.”
“Spur him!”
Slam! Chance’s nose hits the fence; I feel his head and neck absorb the energy as the weight of his powerful body folds underneath me. I feel the saddle lift up behind me as his hindquarters slide under him and his back curves up. I hear the breath being forced from his lungs—or is it mine? My legs fly forward with my feet in perfect position in my beautiful, solid sliver-plated stirrups. Even my saddle seems to cry out as the leather squeaks from being torqued in ways it’s never been before. I can feel my heart breaking and I can feel Chance breaking. We are now broken. The we, the us, the him the me.
The sound is unimaginable. A sound that literally brings the entire stadium to a standstill. Horse people know this shit. If you here a sound like that, someone is hurt. Horses are powerful, fragile animals and people are fucked-up enough to exploit it. When a horse panics or loses control or has finally has enough and fights back out of self-protection, it sounds like this.

 

Chance is frozen underneath me. Trembling but I can feel his feet rooted to the ground. We are about four feet from the gate because we have literally bounced off it.

I am numb.
“Am I shaking or is that him shaking both of us?”
My mind is spinning and my thoughts feel like they are racing but in slow motion. Does that make sense? Almost like I have two minds; two parallel thought processes. One which is in control, takes over and manages everything and the other one-the real me-which is a confusing mass of pain, emotion, and confusion. There is a roar in my ears. I can feel everyone in the stadium looking at me.
Silence.

 

My trainer is dumbfounded; at least he has stopped yelling at us. I am crying and can’t help it. Tears are streaming down my face as I just sit there feeling my “Sweet Boy” tremble underneath me.
I gave him the nickname Sweet Boy the first time he stuck his tongue out of the side of his mouth while I was brushing him. He stuck his tongue out and I grabbed it playfully and said “silly.” He quickly pulled back into his mouth and jerked his head up and away a little. I giggled and continued to brush him. His ears flicker and, blip, out it came again. I grabbed it again and wiggled it side to side and giggled and we were on. It was one of many playful and silly games he played with me in such a sweet and innocent way. It’s difficult to describe him with words—Sweet boy just seemed to capture it. Sweet, innocent, open, young and playful because he had never been abused—until I abused him.

 

My mind is trying to function but I can’t think. I realize that I am frozen too. What have I done? I am screaming in my head so loudly that the sound is deafening. The tears have stopped and now I am feeling anger well up inside me.
          “I am done! I quit! Fuck this! I quit! I am not doing this anymore!”
I look down and see that Chance is shaking so hard that his front legs are buckling at the knees. The shock of realizing that he may collapse breaks me out of my self-absorbed, mental temper tantrum.
My trainer has saunters over trying very hard not to let show how emotionally shaken he really is.

 

“What happened?”
          “What happened? Really? You made me push him too far, that’s what happened.” I just mumble something incoherent about, “I don’t know” and “sorry.”
In the distance, I hear the click of a horses hooves-the echoing sound made when a horse hits one if his feet into the other-especially when they are shod. It’s one of the myriad sounds that one only hears in certain circumstances around horses-like at a big show. But it means that the gawking has subsided and people are getting back to punishing their own horses instead of watching me abuse mine.
“I don’t know about this horse” Ray says, shaking his head. “I mean, I have never seen a horse that was stupid enough to actually run into a fence.” He laughs. I feel the rage well up inside me.
“Let’s get you out of here, Sweet boy” I say to Chance. I gently squeeze him with my legs and “ask” him to take a step. Horse people differentiate between “asking” and “making” a horse do something. When a trainer says, “ask him to…” what they really mean is to give him the least perceptible signal possible and let’s see how “trained” he is. What that means to the horse is “respond to a gentle touch or you will get pain until you do.” Not always physical pain, many time it’s manipulative and emotional pain. Remember horse are powerful but fragile. Oh, and the “run him into the fence” isn’t meant literally. What horse trainers have learned is that horses are keen, sensitive animals that learn really fast and instead of working with a horse, the whole idea of “showing” is to show who has the best “control” over his or her horse. So kicking my heals into Chance’s sides to force him to the fence was based on the premise that either he or I would pull back at the end and we wouldn’t actually hit the fence. Makes complete sense. That is, unless you have forged a relationship with your horse so that he truly trusts you not to do anything that would hurt him.
Ray reaches out to put his hand on Chance’s nose and as he does, I follow his hand with my gaze. Chance’s face is wet with sweat. There is foam sticking above his eye where he has flung it from his mouth in the chaos of our “schooling” session. His eyes are open so wide that I can see the whites of them and his nostrils are flaring with stress. He moves his head away from Ray.
I feel Chance’s recoil and fear in my gut and rage wells up from it.
my thoughts are out of control with anger.

And then…poof. The anger is gone. Just gone.

Where did all that rage go? It just evaporated-poof.

“He is hopeless, just take him back to the barn.” Says Ray.

“Okay, I will. I’m sorry.” I say.

I turn my attention back to Chance and hear myself say again, “I’m sorry, Ray” mumble, mumble-“Sorry.”

I gently squeeze Chance again because he hasn’t moved. “Come on, you’re alright.”
He tries again and what I see and feel breaks my heart. As I gently squeeze him again and encourage him to take a small step, he tries. I feel his body move forward and to the right a little. His right knee buckles and we just stop. His foot is not moving. We just hang there. Him, rooted to the ground, trying to will his foot to take a step, his knee quaking under the weight of all of this. Me hanging in this floating space as the realization of what I have just done to him sinks in-like a dripping faucet in the midst of a roaring waterfall. Those two minds. Two of me. One who is the feeling, knowing, sensitive, communicative, connected me. The me who Chance knows and trusts. The me who has somewhere along the way lost the ability to say no, to stand up for what is right, to stand up Chance. And the other me who always takes control in these circumstances and covers my weaknesses. But now that voice has become my accuser. That voice has become my abuser.

Two minds competing for access to my soul.
The quiet dwindling, dripping of me, getting smaller and weaker. Drip. Drip, “what have I done?”

And the roar of my victimized self growing stronger and gaining control over the conscious me.

Roar! “He is afraid of you!”

Drip, “I didn’t mean it. I wanted to say no but I couldn’t.”

Roar! “You ran him into a fucking fence!”

Drip, “I tried to stop. I didn’t know how to say ‘no.’”

Drip, drip, drip. “I am sorry Sweet Boy.”

Roar! “You just broke him.”

Drip, “I.”

Roar! “You!”

Drip, roar, I, you, I’m sorry, you, sorry, sorry , sorry…

This was the earliest clear memory I have of being a victim. It is 2016. I am 53 and through years of self-work, counseling, therapy, grief work, and a bachelors, masters and PhD in psychology, I have, finally begun to retrace my life to begin to understand where and how I learned to be a victim by being a surrogate bully.

 

 

 

https://gottahaveavictim.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/becoming-a-victim-101-how-trauma-changes-our-brain

 

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