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Nurse Suicides On The Rise

Nurses are at a greater risk for suicide than the general population. It’s a problem that we cannot ignore. 

This post explores why suicide among nurses has become a problem and what we can do about it. It’s a must-read for every nurse and anyone who knows a nurse.

  • Nurse Suicide Rates
  • Risk factors for nurse suicide
  • Warning signs of nurse suicide
  • How to get help for a nurse in crisis
  • What you can do to prevent nurse suicide

Nurse Suicide Rates are Rising

The nursing profession is one of the most essential and trusted in the healthcare system. Nurses work long hours, often under strenuous circumstances, to care for others. So, it is alarming that nurse suicide rates are rising.

According to a startling study published in the JAMA psychology journal, nurse suicide rates are much higher than previously thought. The study estimated that the suicide rate for nurses is nearly 58% higher for female nurses and 41% higher for male nurses than in the US. 

The American Nurses Association (ANA) previously recognized the issue of depression and anxiety among nurses and started a national initiative, Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™, to promote mental health for nurses.

Much of the data we have on nurse suicide rates is pre-pandemic. Rates are likely higher now.

Risk Factors for Nurse Suicide 

Nurses may be more susceptible to feelings of despair and isolation than other professionals. Caring for the sick and injured, feelings of inadequacy, and physical fatigue contribute to constant, high workplace stress. Other risk factors nurses contend with include:

  • Exposure to trauma
  • Scheduling long, consecutive shifts
  • Workplace violence, incivility, and bullying
  • Inadequate self-care
  • Fearing for one’s safety or the safety of loved ones
  • Access to and knowledge of lethal substances
  • Loneliness after relocation, transfer, or a new job

One study found workplace relations, organizational support, organizational preparedness, workplace safety, and access to supplies associated with poor mental health outcomes.

Compared to other occupations, nurses work in unique circumstances that can contribute to their elevated rates of suicide.

Studies have shown that nurses working in settings with terminally ill or traumatized patients show more signs of poor mental health (e.g., increased stress, anxiety, depression, depersonalization, and emotional distress). These factors also raise their risk for caregiver burnout.

Warning Signs of Nurse Suicide 

According to the American Journal of Nursing, nurses are at higher risk for suicidal ideation but are more reluctant to seek help. That’s why we all need to know the risk factors and take note of the warning signs of suicide. Some signs that might indicate a person has had suicidal thoughts include:

  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Giving away possessions
  • Looking for ways out (like stockpiling pills)
  • Acting recklessly or impulsively

If you’re concerned about a nurse’s wellbeing, the first step to helping them is recognizing the warning signs. These can be subtle and may be easily missed. Some common red flags include:

  • Changes in mood: depression or anxiety that persists longer than two weeks
  • Changes in behavior: withdrawing from people, activities, and places that were previously important
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns: overeating or not eating; sleeping less or more than usual
  • Change in appearance or weight: looking unkempt or appearing distant and preoccupied; having lost weight without trying to do so

The ANA advocates the acronym AIR (Awareness/Identify/Recognize) to help nurses identify someone at risk of suicide.

How to Get Help for a Nurse in Crisis 

If you experience a crisis with a friend or colleague, there are clinician-friendly hotlines to help. 

  • Crisis Text Line – 24/7 crisis support for health workers from trained crisis responders. USA – Text “HOME” to 741741
  • Safe Call Now – crisis referral service for public safety employees, emergency services personnel and their families. 206-459-3020.
  • Disaster Distress Helpline – Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. Run by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA). 
  • 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline – Call or text 988 for help 24 hours a day in English or Spanish.

If you experience a mental health emergency, call 911. You should also notify the person’s healthcare provider.

What You Can Do to Prevent Nurse Suicide 

Suicide is preventable.

It’s important to remember that suicide is preventable. If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide, don’t hesitate to seek help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or visit their website.

Suicide Prevention and Self-Care

Nurses must be aware of the risk factors, warning signs, and how to help their colleagues. Staying connected is key. As a nurse, building a support network and offering encouragement and accountability to others in the profession is important. 

Nurses should know that being a caretaker can be draining. They should recognize when they are feeling burnt out to take steps toward recovery before it’s too late.

Professional Organizations Awareness and Action

In addition to the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ initiative, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) launched the Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-being and Resilience to bring national visibility to this public health epidemic and formulate evidence-based solutions to address it. This movement recognizes the need for a paradigm shift from crisis intervention to mental health promotion in the nursing and health professions.

According to NAM:

  1. Nursing culture needs to normalize conversations about mental wellness and prioritize mental health
  2. Nurses need to recognize warning signs of colleagues in dark places of depression

I don’t know about you, but I think these are great ways to fight nurse suicides today. 

Conclusion

In short, if we want to reduce nurse suicide rates, we must act now. The healthcare industry is already suffering from a shortage of nurses, and this problem will only get worse if more nurses continue to leave the profession due to mental illness or die by suicide. We can come together to make a change in the profession for a brighter future.

DISCLAIMER: The content provided on this webpage is general in nature and does not constitute legal or medical advice.  This webpage is for reference only.  Always consult with a qualified health care provider for any questions you may have regarding thoughts of suicide. If you believe someone is at imminent risk of harming themselves and is refusing help or you have reason to believe someone has harmed themselves, call 911. 

Sources:

Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience”. nam.edu. Accessed June 22, 2022.

Digital Shareables on Suicide Prevention”. nimh.nih.gov. Accessed June 22, 2022.

Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation”. healthynursehealthynation.org. Accessed June 22, 2022.

Nurse Suicide: Breaking the Silence”. nam.edu. Accessed June 22, 2022.

Nurse Suicide Prevention/Resilience”. nursingworld.org. Accessed June 22, 2022.

Nurses Workplace Conditions Affecting Their Mental Health”. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed June 22, 2022.

Rate of Suicide Among Women Nurses”. jamanetwork.com. Accessed June 22, 2022.

Suicide Attitudes and Ideation”. journals.lww.com. Accessed June 22, 2022.

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline“. samsha.gov. Accessed August 10, 2022.

Sarah Falcone BSN, RN

Sarah Falcone BSN, RN

Author

Sarah S. Falcone BSN, RN is a dedicated nurse based in Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX. Her first nursing gig, was night-shift floor nurse in women's services (PP, L&D, nursery). Through a series of fortunate events, she found home health and a passion for helping seniors age in place. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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