- A report on nurse suicides recently found that the profession had higher rates of death by suicide than non-nurses in the US.
- Nursing is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the US, yet nurses work long hours and often face physical abuse on the job.
- Nursing is one of many occupations with increasing rates of suicide.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Nurses – who typically work long hours and may face abuse on the job – are more likely to take their own lives, a new study found.
Researchers from the University of California at San Diego recently conducted what they said is the first nationwide investigation into nurse suicides in more than 20 years. They found that both male and female nurses had higher rates of suicide than men and women in the US.
The findings are consistent with the increasing rates of suicide across the country. The US suicide rate has risen in recent years, increasing by 28% in the past two decades, to the highest it’s been since World War II.
For nurses, hardships on the job include working long hours because of nationwide worker shortages, plus dealing with physical and verbal abuse on the job.
Here’s what the high rate of suicide among nurses tells us about the crisis facing one of the nation’s most in-demand jobs.
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Nursing is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country — yet nationwide nurse shortages mean nurses can work long hours with little time for rest.
Nurse practitioner is the sixth-fastest-growing career in the US,according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. Jobs for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses are also expected to grow at a pace higher than the national average by 2026. As baby boomers get older, more nurses will be needed to provide medical care to them.
Despite the job opportunity, many hospitals are struggling to fill roles – and the problem is expected to get much worse. By 2030, the US will have hundreds of thousands of vacant RN jobs, particularly in the South and on the West Coast, a 2012 paper from the University of Nebraska found.
Since nursing is a relatively high-paying profession – registered nurses make an average of $US71,730 a year – the job’s high demands could be turning workers away. Many nurses are also reaching retirement age, while enrollment at nursing schools is not rising fast enough to keep up with demand, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing said.
The shortage has led to nurses working 12-hour shifts and overtime, researchers at New York University found. Nurses have told Business Insider they sometimes don’t even have time to use the bathroom during their workdays.
Nurses, facing difficulties on the job, are taking their own lives at rates higher than the general US population.
Researchers from the University of California at San Diego’s School of Medicine conducted what it said was the first national investigation on nurse suicide in over 20 years, publishing their results this summer.
The researchers found a suicide incidence of 11.97 per 100,000 people among women who are nurses, versus 7.58 per 100,000 for American women in general.
Women overwhelmingly make up the profession, but men who are nurses are also more likely to kill themselves than men in general, the study found: 39.8 per 100,000 people, versus 28.2 per 100,000.
While researchers have often documented burnout and suicide among physicians, very few have spent time assessing the mental health and suicide rates among nurses, the study’s lead researcher, Judy Davidson, told MedPage Today.
“Nurses are known not to care for themselves as much as they care for others,” Davidson, a nurse scientist, told the publication. “It’s just a part of who we are.”
Along with working long hours, nurses often face physical, verbal, and emotional abuse on the job.
One of the most pressing problems facing nurses is abuse on the job, a representative for the American Nurses Association told Business Insider in an interview.
The research has found that patients – especially people with dementia or Alzheimer’s – are more likely to abuse nurses. Assaults range from getting cursed at to grabbing and kicking,a 2014 survey of more than 5,000 nurses found. Visitors to medical centres have also been accused of abusing nurses.
The survey found that emergency nurses had the highest likelihood of experiencing abusive behaviour.
While many nurses face abuse on the job, few report their experiences, ANA found – in part because there are no federal rules mandating that hospitals protect nurses from violence. Movements such as the #SilentNoMore campaign are attempting to shed light on the hardships facing people in the profession.
Nurses are one of many groups of people taking their lives at higher numbers, part of a nationwide increase in suicide rates.
More Americans of every age group are taking their lives today than 20 years ago, a 2016 study by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found.
Other than nursing, industries like construction work and food service have seen a rise in suicide rates among workers.
Native Americans are the ethnicity most affected by suicide, yet suicides are rising among white Americans without a college degree, a 2017 paper released by the think tank Brookings found.
Researchers have attributed the rise in suicides in part to the deterioration of good blue-collar jobs.
“If you go back to the early ’70s when you had the so-called blue-collar aristocrats, those jobs have slowly crumbled away and many more men are finding themselves in a much more hostile labour market with lower wages, lower quality and less permanent jobs,” the Brookings researcher Angus Deaton told NPR in 2017. “That’s made it harder for them to get married. They don’t get to know their own kids. There’s a lot of social dysfunction building up over time.”
Many nurse-advocacy groups are calling for greater workplace protections.
Davidson pointed to work volume and violence as two of the largest contributing factors to nurse suicides.
In February, ANA helped introduce a bill in the House that would require the Department of Labour to address workplace violence toward healthcare providers, as well as require workplaces to train and educate employees at risk of being harmed and implement a comprehensive plan to protect nurses from violence.
A New York City nurse union earlier this year persuaded hospitals to ease understaffing after threatening to strike.
“From the bedside to the boardroom, all nurse leaders have a role in creating a healthy work environment supportive of mental well-being,” the trade group American Organisation for Nursing Leadership said in a statement. “We continue to advocate for funding of mental health resources and are working with fellow nursing organisations to address nurse suicide.”
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