Posted on Feb 07, 2020, 4 p.m.
Nurses are the selfless helpers and caregivers of those in need by the fundamental nature of their profession. Who takes care of these hard working lifelines? A recent national study has revealed unsettling findings: Nurses, regardless of gender, are at a significantly increased risk of suicide than the rest of the general population.
In the past studies have made note of a connection between being in the nursing profession and the risk of suicide, but this study published in WORLDviews on Evidence Based Nursing, the largest national study conducted on the matter confirmed those notes. Findings suggest that it is imperative that American nurses have greater access to suicide prevention services as well as better overall mental health support from employers.
“Using the 2005-2016 National Violent Death Reporting System dataset from the Centers for Disease Control, we found that male and female nurses are at a higher risk for suicide, confirming our previous studies,” comments senior author Judy Davidson, a research scientist at UC San Diego and a registered nurse. “Female nurses have been at greater risk since 2005 and males since 2011. Unexpectedly, the data does not reflect a rise in suicide, but rather that nurse suicide has been unaddressed for years.”
The rate of female nurse suicides between 2005-20016 was 10 per 100,000 which was an increase from the 7 per 100,000 for the general female population; male nurse suicides were 33 per 100,000 and the general male population was 27 per 100,000 in the same time frame.
“Opioids and benzodiazepines were the most commonly used method of suicide in females, indicating a need to further support nurses with pain management and mental health issues,” says co-author Dr. Sidney Zisook, a professor of psychiatry at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. “The use of firearms was most common in male nurses, and rising in female nurses. Given these results, suicide prevention programs are needed.”
A suicide prevention program called the Healer Education Assessment and Referral is showing promise in helping nurses deal with distressing developments and other issues in testing trials; HEAR is centered on providing nurses with information about on the job risk factors that may lead to suicidal thoughts and how to move forward. HEAR also offers proactive screening with initiatives that are focussed on identifying untreated depression among nurses or other medical professionals and provides help.
“To achieve success, suicide prevention programs for nurses should be anonymous and have a proactive screening process,” says Rachael Accardi, a HEAR therapist. “When a distressing event occurs in the hospital or clinic environment, an evaluation team should be deployed to access any psychological needs. This is best achieved through tight organizational connections among the hospital’s experience, risk management and HR teams, who can flag an event and then deploy confidential resources.”
“It is time to take urgent action to protect our nursing workforce. The HEAR program is ready for replication at the national level to address this newly recognized risk among nurses,” Davidson concludes. “The HEAR program can be complemented with tested cognitive-based therapy resilience skills building for maximum effect.”
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.