The risk of suicide among female nurses is 23% above the national average, while care workers in general are at higher risk, according to latest data revealed.
The new data, published today by Public Health England, reveals suicide prevalence in England broken down by occupation for the first time.
“The workplace offers an opportunity to reach people who need extra support”
Analysis of the 2011-15 data from the Office for National Statistics was carried out to gain a better understanding of factors that influence suicide for the government’s suicide prevention strategy.
Overall, there were 18,998 deaths caused by suicide in England between 2011 and 2015, according to the new report from PHE.
The new ONS analysis shows that suicides are less common for females than males, and that there are differences in the types of occupation where suicide is more common.
For women, occupations with a high risk of suicide include nurses, primary school teachers (42% above average) and those working in culture, media and sport (69% above average).
The report said: “For females, the risk of suicide among health professionals was 24% higher than the female national average; this is largely explained by high suicide risk among female nurses.
“Poisoning was the most frequent method of suicide among female health professionals, accounting for 41.2% of all suicides,” it stated.
“Today’s figures are a cause of great concern to the nursing profession”
Both male and female care workers have a risk of suicide that was almost twice the national average.
Meanwhile, for men, low skilled labourers in construction had a risk that was three times higher than that the average for England.
The PHE report noted that common explanations for the high risk of suicide in occupations like nursing included having easy access to lethal drugs.
It added that high risk of suicide among health professionals could also be explained by these occupations possessing relevant knowledge on methods of suicide – for example, different kinds of drugs, lethal doses and their effects.
To coincide with the data’s publication, PHE, Business in the Community (BITC) and the Samaritans have jointly produced toolkits for employers on preventing suicide and how to minimise its impact.
The toolkits include advice on steps employers can take action to prevent suicides and support them and their teams when responding to the death of an employee caused by suicide.
PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie said: “Death by suicide is never inevitable, but for a person who is overwhelmed by feelings and events that appear insurmountable, it can seem like the only answer.
“With more than two-thirds of adults in employment, the workplace offers an opportunity to reach people who need extra support,” said Mr Selbie.
“Early action can stop any employees reaching a desperate stage. Simple actions can make a huge difference – talking with a manager or colleague can help people get the support they need, and ultimately save lives,” he said.
“Important actions employers can take include introducing specialised suicide awareness prevention training for managers, mental health first aid training, and using internal communications as a function to foster a culture of openness about mental health,” he added.
Louise Aston, Wellbeing director of BITC, said: “As well as looking after the mental health of their staff, employers need to have preparations in place to ensure that if the worst happens, they have the knowledge and skills to minimise harms.
“This way they can help everyone deal with the devastating consequences of suicide as best they can,” she said. “That’s where these toolkits come in.”
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Today’s figures are a cause of great concern to the nursing profession. Every life lost is heart-breaking for their friends, family and colleagues. It is never inevitable and we must all redouble our efforts to support nursing staff.
“The new guidance issued to staff and workplaces today by Public Health England shows the figures are being taken seriously but urgent further work must be undertaken,” she said. “The government and all NHS bodies must take a detailed look at why female nurses are much more likely to take their lives than male counterparts, other health professionals or the wider public.
“Nurses have long been considered a key high risk group for suicide, due to the strain and level of responsibility of their role. But our members repeatedly say that their employers ignore or disregard mental health issues. They feel they ‘should cope’ but our counselling service gives support when nursing staff are unable to, including with suicidal thoughts,” said Ms Davies.
She added: “We are confident that there has been a significant decrease in the wellbeing of the nursing profession and workplace. Nursing staff experience high levels of stress, a shortage of colleagues and long working hours. The RCN’s ‘Healthy workplace’ toolkit promotes better environments and self-care within the workforce and it is time for NHS organisations to implement it.”