Nurses more likely to think about suicide, less likely to seek help

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Nursing can be a stressful career choice, even without a global pandemic making the lives of healthcare workers immeasurably harder. Now, a new study reports that U.S. nurses deal with suicidal thoughts much more often than workers in other fields. Perhaps even more unnerving is the discovery that nurses are also less likely than others to tell anyone about their mental health difficulties.

Importantly, researchers collected the data behind this work in 2018 — long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the findings of our study are serious enough, we recognize the impact of the current pandemic has dramatically compounded the situation,” says senior study author Liselotte Dyrbye, M.D., a Mayo Clinic internist, in a media release. “The need for system-level interventions to improve the work lives of nurses and other members of the health care team is greater than ever before.”

Over 7,000 nurses answered a national well-being survey focusing on various wellness topics ranging from burnout to full-on depression. The surveys started in late 2017, with data collection taking place in early 2018. More than 400 respondents admitted to having suicidal thoughts over the prior year, which is nearly one percent higher than  the number of people in other jobs experiencing these issues (4.3%).

Nurses are also less likely to seek professional help for such thoughts and feelings. Over a third of surveyed nurses indicate at least one burnout-related symptom and 40 percent show signs of depression.

Study authors stress that officials must act to address this trend immediately. They say entire systems and practice-based interventions need to be put in place for recognizing, addressing, and treating both burnout and suicidal thoughts among nurses.

The findings appear in the AJN American Journal of Nursing.