300 Nurses Died By Suicide in Seven Years Shows Alarming Stat

The alarming fact that 300 nurses in the UK had committed suicide in the past seven years was recently highlighted in the press. Meanwhile, there’s no data on the number of nurses taking their own lives in the US. Here the occurrence of nurse suicides seems to be shrouded in silence and denial.

Call for action on nurse suicides

Figures released by the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) last year showed that between 2011 and 2017 more than 300 nurses had taken their own lives, and that female nurses were most at risk. The suicide rate among nurses was 23% higher than the national average.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary for Labour, called on the government to launch an urgent inquiry into these figures. “The health and wellbeing of our NHS staff must never be compromised,” he said. “We must care for those who care for us and our loved ones in time of need.”

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also reacted. “Nursing staff experience high levels of stress, a shortage of colleagues and long working hours,” stated Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN. “Our members repeatedly say their employers ignore or disregard mental health issues. They feel they should cope.” She also called on the government to take note of the statistics and respond.

Family members of nurses who had taken their own lives placed some of the blame on a “bullying and toxic culture” in health services. Younger nurses didn’t ask for help with mental health issues as they were afraid that it would affect their careers.

A report, NHS Staff and Learners’ Mental Wellbeing Commission, was released in February this year, which acknowledged that nurses were among those most at risk of taking their own life. According to a spokesperson, the Department of Health and Social Care would be implementing some of the recommendations made in the report.

Silence on nurse suicides in the US

Meanwhile, a discussion paper published by the National Academy of Medicine in the US reported that there were no local, state or national mechanisms in place to report on nurse suicides in the US. In contrast, data on suicide rates among doctors, teachers, police officers, firefighters, and military personnel were readily available.

The authors of the paper believed that suicide among nurses was more common than generally thought. Based on the lack of data and also interviews with nurses, they concluded that nurse suicide was “shrouded in silence, avoidance, and denial.” Risk assessments and prevention just weren’t possible without the necessary information.

At the School of Medicine, the University of California, a mental health program – The Healer Education Assessment and Referral Program (HEAR) was developed, initially for doctors, residents, and medical students.  It took nurse suicides, and seven years, before the program was extended to the nursing community.

The authors of the above paper reported that an extension pilot of the HEAR program found that the workplace stressors that put nurses at high risk for suicide were feelings of inadequacy, lack of preparation for their role, lateral violence, and a transfer to a new working environment.

Get help for mental health problems

Burnout, stress, and depression are common among nurses and known risk factors for suicide. Administrators, nurse leaders, and colleagues should pay attention to the health and wellness of nurses within the workplace. Help and support should be available for anyone suffering from mental health issues, and nurses should not hesitate to seek advice when needed.

Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

29 thoughts on “300 Nurses Died By Suicide in Seven Years Shows Alarming Stat”

  1. I almost 100 percent put forth the blame onto unsafe staffing levels coupled with ridiculous amounts of redundant electronic charting AND the continual shunting of tasks onto nursing staff all in the name of patient satisfaction. At any given minute a nurse has the life of her patient at risk and believe me we do not take that lightly. Giving us more and more patients and less and less resources and help just makes the anxiety and gear and burnout spiral even faster. Case in point…we just moved our specialty IMC oncology and transplant unit to a brand new wing. We went from 15 to 25 beds. Thete was no hiring to ramp up staff and our management and staffing continue to tell us that we can “get by” with the same number of nurses and techs or they grudgingly give us an extra float pool nurse. The day we moved we were at max capacity on our old unit. Before we could even move the first patient, bed placement put 6 new patients on our board. Insane and just crushed the spirit of the staff. By the end of the day, we had 25 patients and only one extra nurse. Our manager showed up to take pictures and buy a couple pizzas. Gee thanks! Every nurse is taking unsafe assignments and the stress is about to kill us all. In less than 6 weeks, more than 3/4 of the nurses are looking elsewhere. That is the kind of crap that makes us anxious and depressed and burned out. That 100 percent contributes to nurse suicides.

  2. Leeza is 100% correct! I’ve been in healthcare since 1981 with 32 years as a R.N. Computers have most certainly taken time away from the patient and I too find myself triple and quadruple documenting things. Not to mention, with bedside charting, we’re looking at a SCREEN when doing an admission rather than the patient. As a patient myself, it feels more impersonal and as a nurse you are missing out on nonverbal cues, which is sometimes very important during an assessment. And you failed to mention our bodies; most of us have bad backs and orthopedic issues as the constant lifting and walking takes a long term toll. And the odd shifts that alters our circadian rhythm, metabolism, and other body functions; most of us have little hope of maintaining any semblance of a healthy lifestyle! After 13hrs on our feet, WHO feels like going to the gym? I also I might add that even in “Not for profit” hospitals, it IS about “Profit!” DON’T KID YOURSELF, the CEO’s are all about “Profit” and damn the needs of the staff because we’re nothing but replaceable “Parts.” One other thing you left off, Leeza, is that this STARTS in Nursing School, or DID when I was there in Southeast MO in the early through mid ’80’s. Most instructors beat you into submission and drive all the confidence and self esteem out of you! That makes you better able to feel like you DESERVE the abusive work environment you end up in. One last thing is other professions give you a “Timeout” to gather your emotions, sort things out, and maybe talk to a counselor or minister after experiencing death. NOT US. We’re expected to suck it up and take care of the rest of our patients as if nothing else happened. And in the ER, you may have just lost a child, and now you have several other patients also in need of your care. We do these things, all the while, dismissing OUR need to use the restroom, eat, or just THINK about what happened. We miss holidays, weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries and no one besides us seems to notice. I would NEVER, EVER encourage a young person to enter this profession!

    • I so agree with everything you have said! I graduated in 1976. It was an exciting career through blood sweat and tears for sure! I spent eighteen of those years in a.very busy emergency department also worked in other critical care areas and became s certified birthing nurse. After retiring I worked part time in a retirement home in a supervisory position. I retired again at age seventy. My daughter has her masters of science. she did not follow my path. I am relieved. I do not like what has happened to nurses . it was tough before and worse in other ways now.

    • I never recommend nursing careers to younger ones who ask about the high pay, challenge, or recognition they crave. Understaffing and hostility among healthcare workers (possibly resulting from same unsafe staffing) have been difficult all 20 years of my RN career.

    • There is a lot of emphasis on mental Health for nurses, but not enough about the bullying, or unsafe working conditions. I don’t think mental health problems proceed these issues. I think bullying and unsafe working conditions are creating mental health issues. Emphasis needs to be focused on changing working conditions. Whether it be bullying, patient ratio, lack of employee lunch break per 12 hour shift, etc.

      • And the so called mental health help is often through THEIR company. Not likely sister!!!!!
        I wouldn’t trust them with my confidential notes.

  3. Do NOT let your employer know you have mental health issues. It will put a target on your back. Then, they’ll start watching you closely for anything else they can use to get rid of you. I speak from experience from working for a major university health system in Michigan after working there as an RN for 25 years. One blessing after leaving is my stress level is drastically less. My pay & job security aren’t as good, but I’m happier & not dealing with being burned out constantly. I didn’t even realize how miserable I was until I left. I had gotten conditioned to be stressed out, overworked, & miserable. I, too, would not recommend anyone to become a nurse. The nicest people become nurses only to be manipulated & used by the system.

    • That’s exactly what happens. Every incident after that is blamed on your ‘acopia’. Such a disgraceful Catch 22!

    • Where do you work now Renee?? I’m just curious… I may leave nursing… it’s killing me to think of it but I don’t want this horrible stress to literally kill me later. I’m wondering what else I would DO??? I’ve been a nursing assistant as a teen and then LPN then I got into an LPN to RN articulation program , so now an RN since 1998… My son wants to see me work retail since I love helping people, & love to shop, he says.LOLOL… I almost can’t do it but I’m interested in what you went into!!!!

  4. As a still practicing nurse of 36 years, I agree all of the above is most definitely true. I have been on midnight’s all of these years and absolutely love my career choice, my patients that become like family and my coworkers. Even after all the understaffing, the “it’s only one more patient”, the pulling of our ancillary staff (who by the way are talented and invaluable), we still continue to do our best. We all help each other when we’re short staffed, do work that is physically demanding that is normally beyond our physical ability, all the while doing redundant charting and caring for our patients. I would not choose any other career path, even after all the years of the abuse my body has taken. My heart goes out to the nurses who don’t feel appreciated or valued, the ones who go above and beyond and are never recognized and the ones that quit because they are not being heard. We must learn to speak out in unison and clearly make our needs known for the safe care of those on our watch. Their lives depend on it and especially us, the nurses at the bedside.

  5. I agree with everything you all have said…other than the part about nursing school! Our professors were excellent! They boosted us up and made sure we were completely ready to be nurses the first day on the floor! After 7 years of nursing, there are days that I feel burnt out! Once I spend hours upon hours taking care of others, I am definitely too tired to take care of my self like I should! I would like to think things will get better for us nurses, but unfortunately I am afraid it’s only going to get worse!!! Fellow nurses, thank you for all you do to take care of patients! Thank goodness there are patients who totally appreciate what we do..they are the reason I get up every day and head to work!!!!

  6. Do you remember how the nurses treated you, when you were a CNA? Transgender suicide rates are twice the rate of nurses, because of how much abuse they get from society. An RN makes good money, and are in high demand, with a HUGE variety of employment options from ER’s to live in private duty. I myself did private duty working with quads because I dident like working in an institutionalized setting where I was required to treat patients like pieces of meat. You are not stuck in this rut. Complaining here does nothing. Get together and take a stand. Do something REAL. Create a medical center of your own, where the NURSES hold the power, not some corporate board run by old rich retired doctors.

  7. I started I’m healthcare in 1978, became a CNA, then CMT, CMA,RMA. The last four years I worked two jobs . One full time Mercy Clinic as a pain management Nurse, second was a 36 hour weekend shift at a nursing home in the special care unit. I’m a single mom of three so overworking was a natural requirement as most single moms know. The stress an not hardly any sleep finally my body gave in. I literally work up one morning in a complete body spasm. I was temporarily paralyzed for three hours unable to move. Finally my sister ( also RRT, LPN got me into a hot bath to úntense my spasm. Then I made it late to work (even more stress) I was rooming patients when all a sudden my right leg stopped working, it’s the weirdest feeling to not be able to get apart of your body to do what it always does. That was my last day working
    My body literally was burnt out. As medical professionals I’m sure your familer with Addisons Disease. My adrenal glands would know longer work,or produce cortisol (our flight or flight hormone) I went into three adrenal crisis before being diagnosed.
    Almost dying due to lack of Emergency Room education in rare Disease. I can no longer work , I’m steroid dependent for life, I’ve lost Soo much , the hardest is losing the person I used to be, I cannot due 25% of what I used to, not to mention financial problems piling up.
    So I’m just stating that I 100% agree, the burn out is actually real and happens. I’m proof, many times if thought it would just be easier to pull the trigger or forget to take my cortef, Prednisone, and fludocort for three days ( meaning my body would go into crisis, coma Then death) but I look at the inicent lives I brought into this world and know my kids still meede.

  8. I bailed on nursing after more than 13 years of hands on care. I have wicked mental health issues anyways, and working as a nurse made them so much worse. I debated suicide several years ago after a patient fell when I had done everything possible to prevent it. She died later that week and I ended up missing a week of work to deal with the guilt I felt. No support from the hospital. I am not at all surprised by these statistics and can only wonder what they are in the US.

  9. nurses have their own dignity but the manipulation by other non professional body which have their own agenda makes the woeld of nurses miserable

  10. I nearly died last year. I was sacked on a technicality after going straight to the CEO regarding non-existent patient safety. Patients were dying and medical staff getting away with it. I had no income and thought I would lose my registration.
    They are still killing patients but I am no longer there.
    The bullying and toxic harassment from the very top down, the lying, the cover ups and deceit are what nearly killed me.

  11. And physician suicides as well. Overworked and underpaid, the stress levels for health professionals are high indeed with high rates of burnout, depression, anxiety and other adverse health effects with suicide being the most terrible one indeed. Health care is sick care and is profoundly broken and erosive to the health of both patients and providers. Nurses are at particular risk because of sexual harassment (and worse) and threatened retribution for speaking out and fighting for themselves and their patients. As a board certified cardiologist I found a wonderful solution where I help patients improve their health free of the constraints of managed care (no billing, ICD codes or malpractice). I have been able to move beyond sick care to creating healthier lives, including my own.
    Dr. Mark Nelson mark@drmarknelson.com


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