Oped: Nurse Suicide Awareness

Posted: June 7, 2022

Nurses have been identified as the backbone of healthcare, supporting, and protecting their patients.   During the pandemic nurses have endured an increased workload, short staffing, fear of becoming sick or worse exposing their families to sickness and very ill patients many of whom died with a nurse by their side and with no family members. The load nurses have carried over the past two years has been consistently heavy, and with no relief the backbone is feeling the strain. As nurses continue to move forward a heavy burden must be lifted. This burden is nurse suicide. 

Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. Nurse suicide rates continue to rise with female nurses experiencing higher suicide mortality compared to other occupations.  By contrast, male and female nurses are more likely to experience job problems and mental health challenges than the general population which increased the risk of suicide. In Kentucky, approximately 58 nurses have died by suicide since 2016.  One is too many.

Nurses need continued support to thrive as a profession. The Kentucky Board of Nursing mandated on January 13, 2022, that all nurses must complete continuing education in suicide prevention. The Kentucky Nurses Action Coalition with the support of the Kentucky Nurses Association developed an educational video to address suicide prevention for nurses. This program teaches nurses how to identify signs of overwhelming stress and hopelessness in themselves and others that are risk factors for dying by suicide.  It also emphasizes the importance of self-care to reduce stress and reaching out for help to carry the load and relieve some of the burden.

An increased awareness of the risk for suicide is crucial for the health of the nursing workforce. To remain strong, nurses need to be supported in all aspects of their work and everyday lives. This includes encouraging and providing opportunities to maintain healthy lifestyles, training in suicide prevention and removing the stigma that is attached to mental health illnesses.  We all must develop an understanding that just like other illnesses mental health problems can be prevented and treated with lifestyle changes and medications. 

Remember to thank nurses every day. If you have a friend or relative that is a nurse, check in with them, and when you ask them how they are doing listen.  Hear what they are saying and if needed support them.  Help them get the help they need to be well. We all need to take care of nurses for without a strong backbone we cannot stand tall.

National Suicide Prevention 1-800-273-8255

Text HOME to 741741 to speak anonymously with a Crisis Counselor

Kentucky Community Mental Health Centers: https://dbhdid.ky.gov/crisisnos.aspx


Authored by: 

Julie Marfell, DNP, FNP-BC, FAANP
President, Kentucky Nurses Action Coalition
Associate Professor, University of Kentucky College of Nursing

Paul Norrod DrPH, M.Div., MA-C, RN
Member, Kentucky Nurses Action Coalition
Instructor, University of Kentucky College of Nursing

LeeAnne Walmsley PhD, EdS, MSN, RN
Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky College of Nursing