We must do a better job addressing nurse suicides

Published 4:53 pm Thursday, September 19, 2019


Guest columnists

On June 8, 2019, the first national study of nurse suicide in two decades was published in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. Given the alarming statistics surrounding suicide within the scope of health professions, it’s no surprise nurses are at the forefront of such findings.

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The daily stresses and pressures nurses experience can reach extreme levels, and as educators and leaders, we have the power to disarm the stigma surrounding mental health, especially within the scope of health care systems. It’s up to us to close the gap between nurses who need mental health treatment and those who receive it.

The study in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing found that female nurse suicides occurred at significantly higher rates than in the general female population. Similarly, male nurse suicides were also higher compared to the general male population.

While the general population most frequently used firearms as a method of suicide, the most common method for nurses was poisoning by pharmaceuticals. Given these devastating facts, each of us has a role to play in understanding what resources are available and in what ways we can engage in often uncomfortable but necessary discussions that promote resilience and healthy daily living skills.

We need to remember that these are our colleagues alongside us, at the bedside, in the classroom and in the community. They are someone’s daughter, son, mother, father, sister or brother. While we cannot see nurses struggling on the inside, staying aware and extending an extra hand or bit of support can ultimately save someone’s life. Members of the Kentucky Nurses Action Coalition, a partner of the Kentucky Nurses Association, are actively working to ensure more preventative measures are taken through programs and practices including the following:

• Engage in suicide prevention training: Learn skills that help us recognize those with suicidal ideation and learn how to listen and guide individuals to seek professional help.

• Engage in mindful practices: Learn skills that remind us to pay attention to the present moment without judgment and in service of self-understanding and wisdom.

• Engage with self-stewardship: Learn skills to know oneself and compassionately respond to individual/collective limits and choose healthy and wholesome behaviors.

As the largest health occupation and most trusted profession, we have a responsibility to take better care of ourselves.  Today’s environment of over-regulation in healthcare delivery can leave nurses feeling overwhelmed, hopeless and helpless to give the best care possible in the time allocated. Compassion fatigue is inevitable with nurses frequently exposed to pain and suffering among patients and their families.

Breaking the cycle of growing indifferent to others’ suffering from ethics-related stress and dissatisfaction in the workplace is critical to prevent burnout, depression and suicidal thoughts.  When we arm ourselves with self-stewardship tools, we have more capacity to help those we serve professionally and personally.

The 80,000+ nurses in the commonwealth should expect nothing less from us and deserve the type of compassionate care they provide to others.

Janie Heath, Ph.D., APRN, is president of the Kentucky Nurses Action Coalition. Delanor Manson, RN, is executive director of the Kentucky Nurses Association.