Even within the health care community itself, female nurses were found to be roughly 70% more likely to die by suicide than female doctors.
Why? Study author Matthew Davis said that for now, “We don’t know for certain what forces are directly responsible for the higher risk of suicide among nurses. It could be related to high job demands, lower autonomy compared to physicians, avoidance of mental health services for fear of stigma, [and] greater access to the means to complete suicide,” meaning prescription drugs.
Not only that, but the pandemic “has added enormous strain to health care workers, particularly nurses who provide the vast majority of bedside care,” said Davis, an associate professor in the Department of Systems, Population and Leadership at the University of Michigan.
In the study, Davis and his team pored over suicide risk information — for adults 30 and older — drawn from the National Violent Death Reporting System.
More than 159,000 suicides occurred during the study time frame — 2007 to 2018. Of those, nearly 2,400 involved nurses, roughly 8 in 10 of whom were women. (That correlates with estimates indicating that 80% to 85% of nurses are women, the study authors noted.
Just over 850 suicides were cited among doctors, of which about 85% were men. The remainder (156,000 suicides) were among the general public; three-quarters of those cases involved men.
Drilling down, Davis and his team determined that the suicide incidence among nurses was 17.1 per 100,000, compared to 8.6 per 100,000 among women in the general public, a doubling of risk.
The picture is murkier with respect to male nurses, said Davis, due to the study’s small sample of male nurses. But suicide risk among doctors was not found to be significantly higher than the risk seen among the general public.
The team also observed that when nurses or doctors take their lives, drugs are often involved. In fact, while 17% of the general public died by suicide via poisoning, that figure jumped to nearly 25% among doctors and nurses. Specifically, clinician suicides were more likely than general public suicides to entail the use of antidepressants, barbiturates, opioids and/or benzodiazepine medications.