Being a nurse is stressful. There probably isn’t a nurse out there who would tell you otherwise. Nurses are very nurturing people, and they are often very passionate about their work – sometimes at the cost of their own health.
And sometimes the burdens of their career, in combination with other personal issues, becomes too much, and these women in particular take their own lives.
According to one Australian study, the rate of suicide is double for women working as health professionals, with the most at risk being nurses and midwives, when compared to employed women in other sectors.
The University of Melbourne and Deakin study looked at 10 000 suicides over an 11 year span. And between 2001 and 2012 it was reported that 3.8 per cent of the suicides were health professionals.
Nurses spend countless hours caring for others, shift after shift on their feet, and being pulled between patients, their families and other health professionals – it’s no surprise that some feel helpless under their workload.
It’s a high stress job where every nurse is forced to think on their feet, and their choices could be the difference between life and death. This is especially the case for nurse who work in the Emergency Department.
And though many nurses will tell you that their jobs are rewarding, it can at times be very unthankful with some patients and their families being difficult to deal with, and co-workers and management being demanding.
On top of that, the constant exposure to trauma, death and terminal illness can take a toll on a health professional’s mental health. In particular women working in palliative care, hospice and aged care are frequently exposed, some nurses can see anywhere from 1 to 10 people die in a week.
There are also outside factors that contribute to the high suicide rates. The study noted that female professionals may still feel pressure to undertake childcare and household roles, leading to considerable gender role stress.
Another reason nurses in particular might feel emotionally fragile is because of the bully culture that exists in the nursing profession. Bullying of younger, less experienced nurses is so prevalent that it even has its own sinister catchphrase – “nurses eat their young”.
The study found that the age-standardised rate for suicide for female health professionals were 6.4, with nurses and midwives being at 8.2. The average suicide rate for all other employed women was 2.8.
So what can be done to help reduce these numbers? A key action is to be open to talking about feelings and issues that may be affecting you. People who feel suicidal tend to bottle up their feelings, instead of seeking the help they need.
It can be difficult for loved ones of the person to sense if a person is feeling suicidal because signs of it are rarely ever obvious. Most people who have lost someone to suicide often say that they “didn’t see it coming”.
If you are swamped because of poor scheduling or having a hard time dealing with a bully, speak to management. Deal with the problems rather than letting them slide and build up to something bigger.
If you need to talk, talk to someone. It can be a partner at home who will openly listen to you, a co-worker who understands the demands and pressure of the job, or a professional to help evaluate your stress and emotions.
Or if you’re worried about someone else, let them know that you’re there for them and that you’re willing to listen to anything they want to talk about. Being attentive and asking something as simple as “are you ok?” can make a big difference to a person.
If you or someone you love wish to seek support and information about suicide prevention, then you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue at 1300 22 4636.