Nurses have high suicide risk, US study finds

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  • Nurses have a higher risk of suicide than doctors and the general US population
  • Both nurses and physicians were more likely to use poisoning than people in the general population
  • Both nurses and doctors tend to use prescription medicines as a method of suicide

The risk of suicide is significantly greater among nurses than the general population, new research has found.

The study published in JAMA Psychiatry investigated the characteristics of nurse suicides compared with doctors and the general population.

Setting up the investigation

Researchers gathered suicide data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) and workforce data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Association of American Medical Colleges State Physician Workforce Data.

They then combined the collected data to estimate the incidence and assess the characteristics linked to suicide rates among nurses, physicians, and the general adult population over the age of 30.

The researchers used death certificates, medical examiner reports, and law enforcement reports to determine the kinds of suicide methods used. A total of 159 372 suicides from 2007 to 2018 were assessed. 

Nurses at higher suicide risk 

The findings of the study show that suicide risk, compared with the general population, was significantly higher for nurses but not for physicians. 

The research data identified 2 374 suicides among nurses, 857 suicides among physicians, and 156 141 suicides in the general population.

Both nurses and physicians were more likely to use poisoning and less likely to use a firearm than people in the general population who died by suicide. Nurses who died by suicide exhibited similar methods to physicians, yet were less likely to use hanging or suffocation than doctors.

Nurses who died by suicide had the highest use of antipsychotics, opiates, and amphetamines in the toxicology reports. The study notes that the reason behind this could be access and knowledge about prescription medication. 

Study authors say that further research is needed to assess whether interventions would reduce the risk of suicide among nurses.

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