UC San Diego Health recently published data in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing showing that male and female nurses are at higher risk of suicide than the general population. This is the first national study of nurse suicide in more than two decades.

“Nurses have traditionally been much better at caring for others than caring for themselves,” said first author Judy Davidson, DNP, RN, UC San Diego. “As such, nurses are at high risk for burnout and need to take positive action towards optimizing the workplace for wellness.

“Given UC San Diego’s experience in studying the incidence of suicide and monitoring outcomes through UC San Diego HEAR (Healer Education Assessment and Referral Program), we firmly believe that structured suicide prevention programs are indicated within every organization’s portfolio of wellness initiatives.”

Study Highlights

Female nurse suicides were significantly higher (11.97/100,000) than in the general female population (7.58/100,000); similarly male nurses (39.8/100,000) compared to the general male population (28.2/100,000).
Opioids and benzodiazepines were the most commonly used method of suicide, indicating a need to further support nurses with pain management and mental health issues.
There is a public health imperative for future research and development of effective preventative strategies for nurses, a largely understudied population.

Study authors available to comment

Judy Davidson, DNP, RN, research scientist, UC San Diego School of Medicine
Sidney Zisook, MD, professor of psychiatry, UC San Diego School of Medicine

About UC San Diego HEAR
The HEAR program has successfully detected and referred nurses at risk for depression and suicide. Since 2009, more than 500 referrals have been made for clinicians to mental health professionals. For every referral, several other nurses have dialogued with counselors, often anonymously through the website and always confidentially by email, phone or in person. Many of these contacts have been at a point of crisis. The HEAR program is ready for replication at the national level to address this newly recognized risk within the nursing workforce.