These front-line workers are at greatest risk of suicide

FILE - In this Dec. 22, 2020, file photo, registered nurses Robin Gooding, left, and Johanna Ortiz treat a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. hit another one-day high on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, at over 4,300 with the country’s attention focused largely on the fallout from the deadly uprising at the Capitol. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Female nurses are 70% more likely to take their lives compared to female physicians, according to a new study examining front-line workers and suicide.

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Authors at the University of Michigan analyzed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s National Violent Death Reporting System classifying suicides by profession and sex.

Of the 159,372 suicides reported between 2007 and 2018, findings showed female nurses were twice as likely to commit suicide compared to women in the general population. They were also 70% more likely than female doctors.

The report was published in the most recent issue of JAMA Psychiatry.

“It’s much higher than I expected,” lead study author Dr. Matthew Davis, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, said in a news release. “The takeaway for me is we’ve focused so much on physician welfare that, historically, we haven’t paid enough attention to this huge workforce, that based on our data, is at much higher risk.”

Approximately 85% of nurses in the U.S. are women. 

The data assessed came before the coronavirus pandemic, which is concerning, Davis says. These statistics are likely to be markedly higher since the pandemic hit. 

“I’m worried about two key issues in today’s workplace,” said co-author Dr. Christopher Friese, in the same news release. “First, health care systems are placing increased demands on nurses [and other health care workers]. Even before COVID-19, nurses reported substantial workplace stressors.”

These stressors include understaffing and an increasing rise in responsibilities over the past decade. 

“Second, nurses … routinely face tougher challenges at home that place added stress on them such as caregiving for children or parents.” Friese added. “You put the workplace and home stressors together and it’s no surprise that nurses are struggling.”

The study is the most comprehensive to date assessing risk of suicide among female nurses. The findings, the authors hope, will highlight the need for workplace wellness programs and mental health support in health care settings.  

Mental health resources

  • NAMI Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Be Well Indiana Crisis Helpline: 211
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741