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23 April 2019

France: a link between working conditions and suicides

carte des suicides au travail

A study published in the Bulletin épidémiologique hebdomadaire (BEH) – a weekly epidemiological bulletin – of the French public health agency helps us to better gauge the impact of working conditions on thoughts of suicide. In 2017, 3.8% of the French population in employment stated having considered suicide in the course of the past twelve months (4.5% of the female population and 3.1% of the male population).

In more than a third of cases, working and employment conditions were stated as being the cause. The most important factor was fear of losing one’s job, followed by verbal threats, humiliation and intimidation at work.

The survey covered more than 14,000 aged between 18 and 75. The self-employed were more likely (4.32%) to consider suicide than employees (2.85%). Among women, blue-collars were more likely (5.13%) to have such thoughts than white-collars (4.84%). The percentage dropped to 3.91% among women managers. Turning to the male cohort, the highest percentage was found among skilled craftsmen, traders and entrepreneurs (3.56%), followed by farmers (3.49%) and blue-collar workers (3.01%). The lowest percentage applied to managers (2.62%).

As regards sectors, the Horeca sector topped the list at 6.8% for both women and men, followed by the (performing) arts, teaching, healthcare and social work.

There was also a strong correlation with one’s place on the social ladder: employees earning less than €1500 a month were more than twice as likely to consider suicide than those with a higher income.

Other events remind us that suicidal thoughts can sometimes lead to action. On 22 April, a Le Monde headline highlighted the suicide rate in the police force, referring to a “state of emergency”. The article reported 28 suicides in the police force since the beginning of the year. Recent figures point to a marked deterioration of the situation. According to researcher Sébastien Roché (CNRS), the authorities have not conducted any systematic inquiry into the causes of this upsurge: “There seems to be little will to understand”, was how he put it. One hypothesis could be the rise in tensions vis-à-vis the population at large over the role played by the police in its handling of the Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes) movement.

For its part, the Solidaires trade union launched a campaign in April, one of whose features will be the compilation of a geographical map of work-related suicides in France. It will be established by union activists reporting cases of suicide.

  • P. Delèzire, V. Gigonzac et al., Pensées suicidaires dans la population active occupée en France en 2017, BEH, n°3-4, 5 février 2019
  • Le Monde, Suicides dans la police : l’état d’urgence, 22-23 avril 2019
  • SUD-Solidaires

Suicides au travail, l'action syndicale from Union Syndicale SOLIDAIRES on Vimeo.

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