The rate of suicide in the United States has climbed dramatically over the last few decades, including in the healthcare workforce. Suicide accounted for nearly 45,000 deaths in 2016 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decades with half of states seeing suicide rates go up more than 30 percent.
According to TheHill.com, an estimated 400 physicians took their lives in 2016. Physicians and nurses commit suicide more often than average Americans, with rates higher for women in both professions. The reasons why healthcare workers are more likely to commit suicide is unknown, but could be related to burnout which has become an epidemic in this population.
The CDC decided to take a comprehensive look at this major public health issue, examining data on suicides from 1999 to 2016. CDC researchers collected data on suicides from every state to better understand the circumstances surrounding suicide and the findings were later published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Principal deputy director of the CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat, tells NYTimes.com, “Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and one of three that is increasing. The other two are Alzheimer’s disease and drug overdose, in part because of the spike in opioid deaths.”
Dr. Schuchat and Deborah Stone, the lead author of the CDC analysis, have identified effective strategies critical to preventing suicide, which include teaching coping and problem-solving skills to those at risk, establishing more social “connectedness,” and safe storage of pills and guns.
Stone and Schuchat are calling for a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention following the conclusion of their study. The nation currently has no federally funded suicide prevention program for adults even though increasing rates of suicide shows a need for more research and evidence-based prevention protocol.
Schuchat tells NYTimes.com, “Our data show that suicide is more than a mental health issue. We want improved access to care and better diagnostics, but we think that a comprehensive approach to suicide is what is needed.”
More proactive reporting of suicide in the healthcare workforce may help us begin to understand the drivers for suicide among healthcare workers. The healthcare community is in need of access to evidence-based treatment that addresses the warning signs of suicide and how to help prevent it.
To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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