Nurses are at a higher risk of suicide than the general population according to the findings of the first national investigation into nurse suicide in more than two decades.
The study, which was published in Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, found that suicide incidence was 11.97 per 100,000 female nurses and even higher among male nurses, with suicide claiming 39.8 per 100,000. Both figures are significantly higher than that of the general population, which is 7.58 per 100,000 women and 28.2 per 100,000 men. Overall, the suicide rate was 13.9 per 100,000 nurses versus 17.7 per 100,000 for the general population.
In all, over 400 nurses per year die by suicide, and according to the study, nurse anesthetists and retired nurses were at the highest risk.
“We are overworked and stressed, and on the edge of the breaking point at any given moment,” said Ariel Begun, BSN, RN, who was willing to speak with us regarding the alarming rate of nurse suicides. “In the last 10 years I have seen the expectations of nurses increase and the staffing and quality of supplies decrease. Nurses have been told they need to do more with less for years and it keeps getting worse.”
When asked how the healthcare industry and its employers can better support the mental health of nurses, Begun had a lot to offer.
“First, fix the systemic problems in healthcare. Starting with patient to nurse ratios being lowered, and increased staffing for support of the department and to ensure someone is available to help in emergencies. We should not consider barebones staffing to be the norm. We also need to provide better resources for nurses to care for patients without having to use the cheapest thing on the market. Additionally, we need better hours and shift options. We should not need to work to the point of jet lag mental conditions, where our basic thought capacity is diminished to the point where we have trouble remembering to care for ourselves.
“Guilt is also a driving factor for nurses. We don’t call out when we are sick because we know the department will be hurt by us not being there. We don’t get decent breaks and we work to the point of dehydration and kidney failure potential. Toss in Neurogenic Nurse Bladder, a condition that develops because of the nurse’s lack of bathroom break time. Can’t pee, I might miss a call from the doc, or my patient might code while I am away.
“In regards to mental health specifically, it would be nice to have group support sessions where nurses can get together and talk about the issues they have. Resources for home-work balance need to be available, too. I always thought that a group yoga session would be a nice thing to have as a way to get your day started in a healthy manner. The first lesson I learned in nursing school was, now is not the time to try to quit any vices you have, in fact you might as well double down on them, because they are going to be what helps you get through your day. Nurses are taught to do the things that we then need to teach our patients not to do. Nurses are not taught coping strategies for how to handle their stress. They are only taught that it is a thing and you can’t escape it.”
If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or others, we encourage you to seek help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or by texting 741741 to have a conversation with a trained crisis counselor via the Crisis Text Line.
Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.