What profession has the most mental health issues?

Quick Answers

Some quick answers to this question based on research:

  • First responders like firefighters, police officers, and EMTs have high rates of PTSD, depression, and suicide.
  • Nurses and healthcare workers in general have high stress leading to burnout, anxiety, and depression.
  • Teachers experience high rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Military personnel like soldiers experience PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse at high rates.
  • Lawyers have high rates of depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and suicide.

Some key factors that contribute to mental health issues across professions:

– High stress environments
– Trauma/crisis exposure
– Long or irregular working hours
– Work overload and burnout
– Lack of work-life balance
– Stigma around seeking mental healthcare

Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, and suicide affect people across all professions. However, certain careers put people at a much higher risk for developing mental health problems. Jobs that involve danger, trauma exposure, extreme stress, overwork, lack of recovery, and stigma around seeking care tend to have the highest rates of mental illness.

Understanding which occupations have elevated rates of mental health issues can help improve workplace policies, access to mental healthcare, and awareness around these issues. Supporting the mental wellbeing of high-risk professions also benefits individual workers, their families and communities, employers, and society as a whole.

This article will examine research on professions with the highest mental illness rates. It will analyze key factors driving these issues and provide statistics on conditions like depression, PTSD, suicide risk, and substance abuse disorders across at-risk jobs. Recommendations will also be provided for improving mental health support in these occupations.

Professions with the Highest Mental Health Issues

According to studies across disciplines like psychology, sociology, medicine, and occupational health, the following professions tend to have the highest rates of mental health problems:

First Responders

Jobs like firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and EMTs are exposed to trauma, crisis, and danger on a frequent basis. This puts them at very high risk for conditions like PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. For example:

– 10-18% of firefighters and police officers have PTSD, compared to 3.5% of the general public (International Association of Fire Fighters)

– Firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty (Ruderman Family Foundation)

– EMS workers like EMTs and paramedics have a suicide rate 10 times higher than average (Erich 2017)

Nurses and Healthcare Workers

Working in healthcare involves helping others through pain, grief, trauma, and death. Nurses and doctors especially are exposed to immense stress that often leads to:

– Up to 30-40% of nurses meet criteria for generalized anxiety disorder (Letvak et al. 2012)

– 30-60% of healthcare workers report symptoms of burnout like emotional exhaustion (Willard-Grace et al. 2019)

– Nurses have higher rates of suicide than the general public (Davidson et al. 2018)


From long hours to low pay, the teaching profession is fraught with strain that contributes to concerning rates of:

– More than 25% of teachers report symptoms of depression (Walter et al. 2006)

– 30% of teachers report severe levels of stress (Herman et al. 2018)

– 22% of teachers experience suicidal thoughts, higher than many other professions (Duarte et al. 2017)

Military Personnel

Combat exposure and high-stress service puts military members at risk for a wide array of mental health issues:

– Up to 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD in a given year (VA.gov)

– 27% of active duty military members experience some form of mental illness (Mental Health Advisory Team 9 Report, 2013)

– 20 veterans die from suicide every day, higher than the general public (VA.gov)


The high stress and adversarial nature of legal work contributes to elevated rates of:

– Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers (Eaton et al. 1990)

– Male lawyers are twice as likely to commit suicide as average (Davey et al. 2016)

– Up to 25% of practicing attorneys will face substance abuse at some point in their career (Manuel 2018)

Factors Contributing to Mental Illness in High-Risk Jobs

There are several key reasons these professions see such high rates of mental health issues compared to office jobs or the general population:

Trauma and Crisis Exposure

First responders, healthcare workers, soldiers, and other first-line personnel regularly experience trauma, grief, critical incidents, danger, and human suffering. Repeated exposure can lead to PTSD, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse as unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Extreme Stress

High risk, life or death stakes, lack of control, and information overload create a perfect storm of stress for jobs like military, emergency response, medicine, and more. Prolonged stress can result in exhaustion, poor health, and mental illness.

Irregular Hours and Overwork

Long shifts, overnight hours, mandatory overtime, and 24/7 on-call schedules often required in nursing, law enforcement, medicine, law, and firefighting disrupt sleep and prevent adequate recovery. This leads to burnout and impairs mental health over time.

Lack of Work-Life Balance

High demands and little flexibility in many of these fields often forces workers to sacrifice family time, relationships, self-care, and leisure. Poor work-life balance has been linked to increased risk of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Stigma Around Seeking Mental Healthcare

Cultures of self-reliance, stoicism, and sucking it up in fields like military, police, and emergency response make it hard for personnel to seek help. Untreated mental illness only gets worse over time.

Profession Key Mental Health Issues Contributing Factors
First Responders PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide Trauma exposure, extreme stress, irregular hours, stigma around seeking help
Nurses Anxiety, burnout, emotional exhaustion, depression, suicide Crisis exposure, work overload, lack of work-life balance, stigma around mental healthcare
Teachers Stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts Overwork, lack of resources, underpay, poor work-life balance
Military PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide Combat trauma, extreme stress, lack of work-life balance, stigma around seeking help
Lawyers Depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide High stress adversarial work, long hours, stigma around mental healthcare

Recommendations for Supporting Mental Health in High-Risk Fields

Improving mental health support and resources in these professions could help lower alarming rates of PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, burnout, and suicide. Some recommendations include:

Increase Access to Mental Healthcare

Providing integrated, confidential mental health services ensures personnel get needed treatment without career repercussions. This includes services tailored to issues like trauma, grief, addiction, and suicide prevention.

Change Attitudes Around Seeking Help

Leaders should work to build psychologically safe cultures that reduce stigma and encourage getting preventative care instead of waiting for crisis.

Build Resilience and Peer Support

Programs in stress management, resilience, peer counseling, and team building can strengthen coping skills and social support that protect mental health.

Adjust Working Conditions

Creating more reasonable shifts, on-call schedules, caseloads, class sizes, and overtime protections can help reduce burnout risk.

Promote Work-Life Balance

Offering flexible schedules, remote work options, paid time off, and leave policies creates space for self-care, relationships, and recovery from work stress.

Train Leadership and Provide Resources

Manager and supervisor training in supporting team mental health along with dedicated staff like counselors and peer supporters provide infrastructure to handle issues proactively.

Change the Culture

Challenging norms that equate weakness with needing mental healthcare helps create open, supportive environments where personnel feel safe seeking help early before issues escalate.


First responders, healthcare workers, teachers, military members, and lawyers contend with some of the highest rates of mental health issues like PTSD, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, burnout, and suicide. Key factors driving these issues include trauma exposure, extreme stress, overwork, lack of work-life balance, and stigma around seeking care. Some recommendations for supporting mental wellbeing in these professions include increasing access to mental healthcare, adjusting attitudes and working conditions, building resilience and peer support, and promoting work-life balance. Implementing more robust mental health strategies tailored to high-risk occupations would benefit individual workers, their families, employers, and the community by supporting those who dedicate themselves to serving and protecting others. With greater awareness and the right resources, we can strive to reduce preventable mental illness among the everyday heroes who keep our society running.

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