Feb 06, 2020

Nurses at higher risk of suicide than general population


A recent study from the United States found that nurses have a higher rate of suicide than the rest of the population, prompting the team at HelloCare to question if the situation was the same here in Australia.

We spoke to Paul McNamara, fellow of the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses, about the issue in Australia.

Female nurses 192% more likely to take their own lives

Mr McNamara said data shows that nurses in Australia also have higher rates of suicide than the general population.

A study of suicide in Australia between 2001 to 2012, found that female nurses and midwives were 192 per cent more likely to take their own lives than females in other occupations (a rate of 8.2 per 100,000 compared with 2.8 per 100,000). 

Female medical professionals were 128 per cent more likely to suicide than females in other occupations (6.4 per 100,000 compared to 2.8 per 100,000).

The rate was even higher for male nurses and midwives, who were 52 per cent more likely to suicide than males in other occupations (22.7 per 100,000 compared to 14.9 per 100.000).

Male nurses and midwives were 196% more likely to suicide than their female counterparts (22.7 per 100,000 compared to 8.2 per 100.000).

“It is time to take urgent action”

By comparison, the US study showed that female nurse suicide rates between 2005 and 2016 were significantly higher (10 per 100,000) than the general female population (7 per 100,000). 

Similarly, in the US male nurses (33 per 100,000) were higher than the general male population (27 per 100,000) for the same period.

“It is time to take urgent action to protect our nursing workforce,” said Judy Davidson, Doctor of Nursing Practice and research scientist at the UC San Diego, lead author of the study.

Shift work, trauma, exhaustion

Mr McNamara told HelloCare there are a number of factors that are likely to cause higher rates of suicide among nurses.

Firstly, he said nurses are more likely to be empathetic people. “They’re likely to be the type of person who’s used to putting others before themselves,” he said.

Mr McNamara said the nature of nurses’ work – well known for shift work, secondary trauma, and exhaustion – could also contribute to poor mental health outcomes.

He said, “I’d love to see the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation partner with the Nursing and Midwifery Board to address this issue.” 

“If a nurse is experiencing suicidal thoughts it is VERY important that they reach out and ask for help. Some things are too big to handle alone, suicide is one of them.” 

Extend a caring hand to each other

In a blog on the high rates of suicide for nurses, Mr McNamara suggested that the stigma around mental health issues could also prevent health practitioners from seeking help, even though they know suicide prevention services are available.

“We have the peculiar privilege of providing care for strangers who are/have been suicidal, but perhaps we aren’t so good at extending that nurturing care to ourselves and each other,” he suggested.

Mr Mcnamara said if health professionals hear someone make a “derogatory” remark or stigmatise anyone with mental health issues or anyone who may be contemplating suicide, to politely remind them of the data – female nurses are 192 per cent more likely to take their own lives than the rest of the population.

Where to find help

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation recommends nurses who are feeling vulnerable reach out to the around-the-clock support service, Nurse & Midwife Support

On the site you will find articles and a range of support services, such links to Lifeline and the Suicide Call Back Service.

If you or anyone you know needs help contact:

  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • PANDA on 1300 726 306
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890

Image: Dean Mitchell, iStock. Model is posed. Stock image.

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