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Female nurses at higher risk of suicide than other women


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”

Duncan Selbie

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”

Janet Davies

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.

Duncan selbie

Duncan selbie

Duncan 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.

janet davies

janet davies

Janet Davies

“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.”



Readers' comments (13)

  • Seriously addressing the well known culture of bullying in nursing and healthcare is now an even more significant priority in relation to this together with the hierarchy/management tendencies to isolate and inadequately support the victims while the perpetrators experience little or no interventions/consequences!

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  • I support the previous comment 100% !!!!

    It is overdue for Senior Managers in NHS and healthcare to be subjected to regulation and checks in the same way that nurses, doctors and other employees are.

    They are so adept at delivering their bully antics - and at a point where numerous institutions designed to prevent this are short changed and institutionalised in a most unhelpful way.

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  • I agree with the above: there is a culture of bullying within healthcare - unfortunately it goes all the way to the top - so there is nowhere to go (hence the suicide). I worked for HMP and know of two individuals who were bullied into suicide. As this is often preceded by a period of 'depression' then when it comes to coroners court - that is the verdict.
    I am a nurse and some of the most unpleasant individuals I have ever known are nurses - and I have worked with Prison Officers, Offenders, Police Officers, Doctors - but nurses take the prize for mental torture.

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  • I sadly have witnessed a family member, who is a nurse, struggle with suicidal thoughts for many months while having to manage the moral dilemma of working in an understaffed environment - the dilemma being "one of needing to be there for patients or taking care of her self". The kind of self-sacrifice I witnessed was beyond what was humanely possible and lead to mental ill health and many months off work recovering form burn-out...... when will the government address an already overstretched NHS, when will we, possible patients of the future, fight alongside nurses, to ensure that their working environments support the care and compassion they are always prepared to give !

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  • but when we dispense of God from our lives what do we expect? My heart goes out to them and their families. But I think we created this monster by banishing God, prayer and bible from our lives. There's no vacuum in this life. When God is not part of our lives, I'm afraid the devil takes over. This is what we are seeing now! We need to go back to basics.

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  • Please, don't bring religion into it. Religion is responsible for a vast number of atrocities and ill-treatments of fellow humans. A lack of a belief in a god, also removes any need to believe in a devil, or in a concept so massively unhelpful as sin.

    Only the religious have a devil. The rest of us are free from having to believe in any of it - there is indeed no vaccuum in life: without religion, you are free to fill your mind with actual facts.

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  • I am a nurse and have witnessed on many occasions burn out in the nursing profession. I spend many nights awake worrying about patients and wondering if I have taken the right actions. When things do go wrong often it is the nursing team blamed. Most nurses I work with are kind and caring, unfortunately you do come across some unpleasant nurses who somehow manage to continue to bully other staff.

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  • Where there is bully culture at the top it will seep down to the nurses on the floor.

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  • I blame the management, the worst bullies of the NHS, and relatives that like to tell nurses how to do their jobs, but mostly it's the bullies of the Nhs that is the problem, get rid of them and no problem. Yes to them being regulated and their wages should be the nurses wages since it's the Nurses doing all the work and taking all the pressure etc etc.

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  • No one is worth killing yourself over.

    Similarly, no job or profession is worth dying for either.

    Walk away if it's that bad, there are other jobs and easier ones for more pay, don't be a doormat. You're/ we are all worth far more than that.

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