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In recognition of Suicide Awareness Month, Georgia Reiner, a risk specialist for Nurses Service Organization (NSO), shares her expertise on the subject of nurses and suicide prevention with DailyNurse.
Q: What do you consider the most striking statistics on suicide in the nursing profession?
A: The phenomenon of nurse suicide has been largely overlooked by researchers in the US. The most prominent research in this area by Davidson and colleagues — just published this year — found that suicide incidence was significantly higher among nurses than the general population. The researchers found suicide rates of 11.97 per 100,000 person-years among female nurses and 39.8 per 100,000 among male nurses, compared to 7.58 and 28.2 per 100,000 person-years among general population women and men, respectively.
Q: Why might nurses be particularly at-risk? Are they more prone to depression than the general population?
A: More research needs to be done to determine why nurses have greater odds of dying by suicide than the general population. However, existing research has suggested that there are some collective risk factors for nurses, including undertreatment of depression and other mental health issues, knowledge of and access to lethal doses of medications, and a combination of personal and work-related stressors. The high-pressure, emotionally draining environment that nurses work in, compassion fatigue, burnout, and job dissatisfaction can each contribute to these risk factors.
Q: Is the phenomenon gaining attention in the healthcare field—and if it is, what measures are being taken to reduce the danger?
A: Yes, and work is being done by organizations like the American Nurses Association, the American Organization of Nurse Executives, the National Academy of Medicine, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to try to raise awareness of the issue and promote protective factors. While systemic and organizational-level solutions in healthcare are critical to addressing burnout, depression, and suicide among nurses and other healthcare professionals, progress in implementing evidence-based solutions has frankly been slow or nonexistent. Therefore, it is also important for nurses to take individual action.
Q: How can nurses bring this problem to the attention of their own institutions?
A: Supporting nurse well-being requires sustained attention and action at the organizational level. This first requires buy-in and investment from leadership and managers. Nurses should work with their managers and organizational leadership to promote a healthier, more positive work environment that cares for nurses as whole people. This includes educating nurse managers and staff nurses about suicide prevention, how to offer support to someone who may be struggling, where to get help, and alleviating the stigma around suicide and depression.
Q: What sorts of self-care practices can nurses follow to reduce the risk of depression and suicide?
A: Nurses need to support each other and take time to have open dialogues with their colleagues about issues affecting them personally and professionally. Increasing connectedness, or a sense of belonging, has shown to be a protective factor against suicide. Nurses also need to work on an individual level to build resilience to cope with stressors in their professional and personal lives. Practicing mindfulness, eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, limiting time spent on social media, and taking regular time off from work are all important. Speaking to someone, whether by going to a therapist or by attending a support group, can also help nurses feel better and improve their mental health and resiliency.
Q: Are nurses more or less likely to enter therapeutic treatment than people outside their field?
A: Nurses face many of the same barriers to mental health care as other people: the stigma associated with mental illness and asking for help, how difficult it can be to get the energy to reach out for help when you’re depressed, and then the time and cost associated with accessing mental health treatment. These barriers can be extremely difficult for some individuals to overcome by themselves, which is why it is so important for nurses to look out for one another.
Q: Are there resources specifically to help nurses who might be suffering from suicidal ideation or actively considering suicide?
A: It is important for nurses to learn about how they can look for signs of someone who may be struggling with suicidal ideation. Starting the conversation, providing immediate support, and helping someone who has suicidal thoughts to connect with ongoing support can help save lives.
If you or anyone you know are considering self-harm or suicide, feeling anxious, depressed, upset, or just need to talk to someone, it is important to know that there are people who want to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at: 1-800-273-8255, as well as the Crisis Text Line, available by texting “START” to 741741 at any time, for any kind of crisis.
Also of interest: A Nurse I Know Tried to Commit Suicide
At NSO, Georgia Reiner is responsible for educating healthcare professionals on professional liability issues and risk management strategies by creating informative risk management content, including self-assessment tools, newsletters, webinars, and claim reports.
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