Nursing & Healthcare News

Nurses and Suicide

Study points to elevated risk

Stress and burnout can cause nurses to leave the profession for good, but a new study suggests that they can also put nurses at elevated risk of suicide.Stress and burnout can cause nurses to leave the profession for good, but a new study suggests that they can also put nurses at elevated risk of suicide.

Occupational Hazard?

Several years ago, UCSF nurse scientist Judy Davidson, RN, DNP, FCCM, FAAM, asked a difficult question: Is suicide an occupational hazard for nurses? There were no recent statistics for RN suicides, so Davidson and her colleagues had to generate their own, using data from CDC National Violent Death Reporting System.  Their conclusion, recently published in Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, is that the risk of suicide is indeed greater for nurses of either gender, whether current or retired.

Greater Risk for Men

The estimated suicide mortality rate for female nurses for the period studied was 11.97 deaths per 100,000 persons per year. For male nurses, suicide mortality was 39.8 per 100,000 persons per year.  By comparison, the overall suicide rate for all women 20 and older for the same period was 7.58 per 100,000, while the overall rate for men 20 and older was 28.2 per 100.000.

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Ending the Silence

The difficulty the research team faced in generating these estimates underscores a much larger problem: Nurse suicide is little-studied and little-discussed even within the profession. Although we all know the emotional toll nursing can take on its practitioners, the study’s authors lament that nursing organizations and institutions have been slow to develop ways to identify and support nurses who may be in crisis — or struggling with the aftermath of a colleague’s suicide.

Just measuring the scope of the problem won’t solve it, but the authors hope that these mortality estimates will be a first step in ending the silence that surrounds this painful issue.


Aaron Severson is a freelance writer, editor, and writing consultant as well as the associate editor of Working Nurse.


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