Why nurses may need suicide-prevention screening

Nurses are at elevated risk for suicide, but the issue gets little attention, researchers report.

Their study of 2005–2016 US government data found the suicide rate among female nurses was significantly higher (10 per 100 000) than that of the general female population (7 per 100 000). The rate among male nurses (33 per 100 000) was also higher than in the general male population (27 per 100 000).

Opioids and benzodiazepines

The findings show "that male and female nurses are at a higher risk for suicide, confirming our previous studies," said study senior author Judy Davidson, a research scientist at the University of California, San Diego.

"Female nurses have been at greater risk since 2005 and males since 2011. Unexpectedly, the data does not reflect a rise in suicide, but rather that nurse suicide has been unaddressed for years," Davidson said in a university news release.

Drugs – namely opioids and benzodiazepines – were the most commonly used method of suicide in females. This indicates "a need to further support nurses with pain management and mental health issues," said study co-author Dr Sidney Zisook, a psychiatry professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

"The use of firearms was most common in male nurses, and rising in female nurses. Given these results, suicide prevention programmes are needed," Zisook said in the release.

The study was published online in the journal WORLDviews on Evidence Based-Nursing.

Time to take urgent action

Another paper in the same issue outlined the effectiveness of a health care provider suicide prevention programme called the Healer Education Assessment and Referral (HEAR) program, which has been tested at UC San Diego.

The programme provides education about suicide risk factors and offers screening. It is listed as a best practice in suicide prevention by the American Medical Association.

"It is time to take urgent action to protect our nursing workforce. The HEAR program is ready for replication at the national level to address this newly recognised risk among nurses," said Davidson, co-chair of an American Nurses Association task force on nurse suicide.

Talk-based therapy to build resiliency would complement the programme, she added.

Image credit: iStock

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