In the world of healthcare, nurses tirelessly care for patients day in and day out. But there is something that has been brushed under the rug for too long: the mental health of our nurses and the alarming number of suicides among us.
Nurses who dedicate our lives to taking care of others are struggling. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paints a concerning picture. Between 2007 and 2018, nurses were 18% more likely to die from suicide than the average person (Lee et al., 2021). If you are a female nurse, the risk is twice as high as the general population and even 70% higher than female physicians. Surprisingly, rates of suicide among doctors didn’t differ much from the rest of us.
In just one year, from 2017 to 2018, nearly 729 American nurses died by suicide, marking the highest number ever recorded (Lee, et al., 2021). But the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse. The stress and trauma they faced during the pandemic have taken a toll on their mental health. Some reports even talk about nurses whose deaths during the pandemic were investigated as suicides.
The issue here is time – it takes about two years to get national estimates of suicides, and we can’t wait that long to address this crisis.
Fixing this problem is not a one-size-fits-all solution. We need to tackle it from different angles. At the big-picture level, society needs to step up with better policies and practices that support nurses. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 set aside over $3 billion to improve mental health care, with $60 million for healthcare professionals. It’s a start, but it’s not enough. We need to dig deeper to understand what’s driving nurses to this point.
Inside hospitals, leaders need to get real about what nurses are facing. They’re dealing with overwhelming workloads, too few resources, and a mountain of paperwork. All this not only affects their mental health but also the safety of their patients.
And yes, while self-care is important, it’s not the only answer. Many nurses suffer in silence, and we need to catch these issues way before they become a crisis.
It’s clear – we need more research, solid interventions, and changes in the way nurses work to turn this situation around. The healthcare community has a duty to protect and support its own. After all, when nurses are well, everyone benefits.
It is time to shine a light on a healthcare crisis that’s been hiding in the shadows for too long. Nurses are facing mental health challenges and suicide rates that demand our attention and action. Let’s come together, from policies to personal support, to ensure the well-being of those who spend their lives caring for others.