As someone in the nursing industry, we constantly encounter the hardships that our communities endure. While we do our best to take care of the patients that require our help, we also look to make sure our own community of friends and family are okay. In our day-to-day lives, it can be hard to keep up, so when September rolls around, we find ourselves being reminded of suicide awareness month. This is the time we can check in with those around us, look out and recognize any signs occurring and even take the time to check in with ourselves.
Suicide awareness month brings to the forefront just how stigmatized and taboo not only suicide is as a topic, but also how our mental health often falls to the back burner. Surprisingly so when rates of suicide are consistently climbing. In the U.S. alone, 2020 brought on 45,799 recorded suicides. If we wanted to get specific, that would be 13.5 suicides per 100,000 people. A staggering rise from the year 2000 when that rate was 10.4 per 100,000 people and even a little jump to 2021s number of 14.5. It’s a frightening thought all on its own, but it becomes even scarier when researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and UC San Diego Health, Department of Nursing, found people in the nursing industry are at a higher risk of suicide than any other worker in the US. But, why?
In short, the culprit seems to be burnout, with a side of depression. Though, not something that has only shown up since the pandemic, but has been a cause for concern since 2005. An article from the UC San Diego Health states “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.” It continues by stating, “from 2005 to 2016 (suicide rates) were significantly higher (10 per 100,000) than the general female population (7 per 100,000). Similarly, male nurses (33 per 100,000) were higher than the general male population (27 per 100,000) for the same period.”
Fast forward to November 2021, when the American Journal of Nursing published a national survey on well-being and specifically focus on suicide ideation. This concept focuses more on the thoughts of suicide or the ideas or ruminations of ending one’s life. What they found was that 5.5% (403) of the 7,378 nurses who responded to the survey answered that within the last 12 months they had experienced suicide ideation. On top of this, though nurses did share that they would seek out help for what they considered to be a serious emotional problem, those with suicide ideation were much less likely to seek professional help. These results at first were 1% higher than other workers, however, when demographics were sorted, including burnout, nurses ended up with 38% higher suicidal thoughts than other professions.
Circling back to burnout, these findings were also able to truly link burnout with suicidal ideations. If you are unaware of what exactly burnout is then firstly, we have to move away from the idea that it is just being very stressed. Burnout takes us a step further. Burnout takes us to the places of exhaustion or depletion, plunges us to a mental distance from our job, reduces professional efficacy, makes us feel helpless, trapped, a failure, detachment and so much more.
While, for the most part, we are expected to self-diagnose, there is a valid and reliable survey that has been used to test the level of burnout and has been taken by healthcare workers. Dubbed the Maslach Burnout Inventory – Human Services Survey (MBI-HSS), this psychological assessment ranks participants on three subscales of burnout which are emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and low sense of personal accomplishment. When healthcare workers were asked to complete the survey, it was discovered that “among them, the prevalence of burnout among the physicians was 55.2%; the prevalence of burnout among the nurses was 82.9%.” Considerable numbers for an occupation that comes with a lot of pressure, trauma, exhaustion and one that needs to be ready to help as much as they can. Especially throughout a pandemic and the stresses that are still occurring because of COVID.
As someone who has a loved one in the nursing industry:
Where do we go from here? As mentioned above, the general consensus is that nurses will seek help for emotional distress, but not for suicidal ideation. This can come down to the risk of losing their job, losing their license, nurses being worried about discretion and others. While there is help available out there, it can come down to the people around them that can make all the difference. If you have a friend or family member currently in the healthcare industry, check in on them. Allow them to lean on you, brief you about their day and support them if they need. With busy shifts that can be stressful or traumatic, you could help them with meals or house duties or do your best to get them out doing different things. Remaining a presence in their life can be an immense amount of help.
As a someone in the nursing industry who feels their mental health is declining:
If you are someone who has begun to recognize their mental health is suffering, but you are also not feeling like you can seek help, lean on those around you. Discuss your day, negative and positive things that have happened throughout your week or ask for help. These people are there to support you, just as you support them. However, if we are getting to a point where we can identify and see specific thoughts arise, we should seek out professional help. Many of those who are afraid of this help affecting their work-life do pay out of pocket. There are more affordable options online. If it is an option that you need, you should absolutely take it.
For those of you that require a change in direction, but would like to stick to the same profession, travel nursing could be perfect for you. Assignments you take on last for 13 weeks and you have the choice to remain in the same area or move your skills to another hospital. You can even negotiate your own schedules, take breaks between assignments to help with burnout and create a life experience you’ve never had before. Many nurses discuss the benefits of their mental health by taking on travel nursing assignments, so if a change is necessary, know there are options available for you. If you’d like to know more about the travel nurse life, please click here!
For the rest of the month, work on bringing your mental health to the forefront. Figure out the things you need to do in order to take care of yourself, strengthen your mental health and aid those around you. It’s time for us to put away the shame and embarrassment that people feel when it comes to mental health topics and start taking the necessary steps to get better. If you are a healthcare professional who is currently struggling. Find help here.