Suicide In Nursing: Much More Common Than You Think
By: Mariam Yazdi, BSN, RN, CCRN
A study released earlier this year shed light on an alarming finding: of the female population, nurses are 23% more likely to commit suicide than women in general. The study linked this shocking statistic to nurses having easy access to lethal doses of medication and noted that suicide rates were higher amongst lower-paid healthcare employees verses higher-paid workers such as managers and CEOs.
Furthermore, nurses are four times more likely to commit suicide than people working outside of medicine.
Suicide in the healthcare setting has been a long-standing topic of discussion. Suicide rates for doctors have been on a decline, especially after the aggressive support systems that have been put into place, and the reconstruction of work-life balance for many specialties.
What Contributes To High Nurse Suicide Rates?
But what about nurses? What is it about the profession, the lifestyle, and the work pressures that are contributing to this finding? What can we, as a nursing community, do to detect pressures, increase the support systems for our fellow staff members or even, for ourselves?
The pressures of healthcare can be daunting; the high-speed inpatient setting, home health and its shocking environments, and all the nursing positions in between put the nurse and fellow healthcare staff in humanity’s hardest moments. We are a profession that is made to ask “how are you?” But what if you don’t have someone to ask this of you?
Nurses are sandwiched between demands of the patient and demands of the system. When caring for patients, nurses are exposed to everything from debilitating disease to traumatic situations. Without proper coping mechanisms – a support system to vent to after work, colleagues to share similar feelings with, a stable and supportive home life – the tragedies of daily work can take a toll on the nurse, one that is insidious and may not become evident until a breaking point is reached.
On the other side of the coin, nurses are often the cornerstone of patient care. Managing all healthcare specialties involved in that patient’s care (including other nurses themselves) can lead to a surmounting amount of pressure, and is a test of one’s confidence and self-worth.
The healthcare environment itself – traumatic patient situations aside – can be cut-throat and insensitive. Although every institution varies, it is common to enter a workplace environment that fosters an attitude of suppressed feelings and cold professionalism. In other words: if you have to cry over your patient during your shift, you’re not strong enough to be here. One Nurse wrote about her frustrating experience as a new nurse and feeling as if her job was an “abusive relationship.”
Nurses have historically been critical of each other’s practice and reaction to workplace stress, and although many hospitals have campaigned against nurse bullying, it takes more than a few posters to really change workplace culture.
High Turn-Over And Workplace Violence
A study conducted by Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that out of new graduate nurses who leave their first job within the first six months, 60% did so because of some form of horizontal violence. But what about the ones who stay and tolerate the violence? Do they internalize it and take the hit to their self-worth? Do they, in turn, continue the practice of nurse bullying to future oncoming nurses thus potentiating the problem?
As we grow into more intuitive creatures, it is important to apply our advances to the healthcare setting: emotional intelligence towards preceptor-preceptee matching, support groups and outlets for healthcare workers to address feelings early, and a workplace environment that fosters speaking up about suicidal ideation, without stigma and without judgement, for all the people who care for others at their worst.
September Is National Suicide Awareness Month
This month is a time to share resources and stories in an effort to shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic. It is also important to ensure that individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention. NAMI is here to help.
- If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
- If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
- If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.