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Help prevent nurse suicide…bring it out of the shadows

By: Julie Cullen

By Julie Cullen, Managing Editor, American Nurse Today

Depression is a treatable illness. If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Over a short period of time, Judy Davidson, DNP, RN, experienced the suicide deaths of three University of California – San Diego nurse colleagues. These suicides prompted Davidson to look more closely at suicide deaths among nurses, which first led to her National Academy of Medicine discussion paper “Nurse suicide: Breaking the silence.” Now, she and her colleagues have published a study in Archives of Psychiatric Nursing that shows significantly higher rates of suicide among both male and female nurses compared to non-nurses. This national study is the first in over 20 years to investigate nurse suicide.

Study takeaways:

  • Female nurse suicide incidence is 11.97 per 100,000 person-years compared to 7.58 in the general female population.
  • Male nurse suicide incidence is 39.8 per 100,000 person-years compared to 28.2 in the general male population.
  • Suicide method involves pharmaceuticals more frequently than firearms among nurses (35.1% vs. 33.7%). In the general population suicide by firearm is more common than pharmaceutical poisoning (51.5% vs. 9.1%).
  • More research and suicide prevention strategies for nurses are needed.

More and more stories are coming to light about the long-kept secret of nurse suicide and the stress and mental health issues that lead to it. Many experts advocate for more frank discussions and a willingness to take action when presented with red flags. An article published in American Nurse Today includes these warning signs and action steps:

Warning signs:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness
  • Talking about being a burden
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Withdrawing or isolating
  • Talking about changes in sleep
  • Searching online for suicide methods or mentioning a recent gun purchase
  • Expressing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying mood swings

Action steps:

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
  • Suggest the person contact his or her employee assistance program.
  • Ask direct questions while also being open and sensitive. (Remember that asking about suicide intention won’t prompt the person to take action. Research shows that asking if someone is thinking about suicide doesn’t increase the risk and may actually decrease it.)
    • How are you coping with what’s happening in your life?
    • Do you ever feel like just giving up?
    • Are you thinking about dying?
    • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
    • Are you thinking about suicide?
    • Have you ever thought about suicide before or tried to harm yourself?
    • Have you ever thought about how and when you’d do it?
    • Do you have access to weapons or things that you can use to harm yourself?

Suicide prevention requires more research and a willingness to speak up when friends, family members, and colleagues show signs of depression and the potential for self-harm. And all workplaces—including hospitals, nursing schools, and other healthcare organizations—must make it a priority to eliminate the stigma associated of mental health issues. Openness is the best first step to helping those in need.

Source: MedPage Today


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