Nurses and other frontline medical staff have taken a stance over working conditions and pay. In a series of strikes, they want to bring attention to issues that are impeding their ability to treat and care for patients. Insight shows that the current pressures in the NHS are putting other lives at risk, including that of the nurses themselves.
Suicide Prevention in a High-risk Occupation
Research from an Oxford University Study, published in Science Direct*, reveals that nurses experience higher levels of suicidal thoughts than the general public. It is no secret that this is a demanding profession. Nurses work long and irregular work patterns and their role is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding.
They might deal with a traumatic injury, a suspected victim of abuse or an angry and aggressive patient, and then have to move straight on to the next person to be seen. These are difficult issues to process, and retaining emotional resilience through a typical 12-hour shift is a challenge.
Nurses are constantly focused on the needs of others and often have few opportunities to eat or drink, take a toilet break or sit down. They are faced with daily decisions and actions that impact the health and well-being of others, but they have little time for self-care.
As with other professions, there is a fear of the consequences of admitting suicidal thoughts. Will they be deemed unfit for work or struck off the nursing register? This is in addition to the general stigma associated with poor mental health and suicide. Unlike many other professions, nurses are knowledgeable about suicide methods and have ready access to medication.
The pressures on medical staff have heightened since Covid-19 and Brexit, with long waiting lists, understaffed wards and hospitals consistently working beyond capacity. What impact is this having?
Mental Health Support for Nurses
One organisation that offers mental health support for nurses is the Laura Hyde Foundation. The charity reported a significant increase in calls from frontline workers in 2022. In a recent statement** they also confirmed knowledge of at least 366 nurses who attempted suicide last year. That equates to one every day. In a profession that we all rely on in our hour of greatest need, this is an issue that must be addressed.
The Laura Hyde Foundation is committed to driving change and getting individuals the help they need. They play an active role in raising awareness and funding to address the mental health issues faced by nurses and other medical staff. This includes suicide interventions, including resources to help signpost individuals to available support.
Interventions for Nurses with Suicidal Thoughts
At present, much of the support offered to medical teams is reactive, rather than preventative. The authors of the Oxford University Study, Samantha Groves, Karen Lascelles and Keith Hawton came to the following conclusion:
“Recent research continues to show that nursing professionals, especially females, are at increased risk of suicide, warranting further research attention. Multiple additive factors appear to be contributory to risk, including occupational, psychiatric, substance-misuse, and physical health factors. Establishment of longitudinal cohorts of nurses and midwives would allow the complex phenomena associated with their suicidal behaviour to be explored. Prevention-based interventions alongside improved psychological support for nursing staff should be developed and evaluated.”
We need greater acknowledgement of the physical, mental and emotional demands on nurses and frontline medical staff and better interventions that support their health and well-being. Suitable provisions must be implemented at speed.
Without considerable advances in support, we can only expect more nurses will quit the profession, or see suicide statistics continue to rise. Without nurses, the health of every one of us is at risk.
Laura Hyde Foundation Suicide Prevention Resource for Medical Workers: https://laurahydefoundation.org/suicide-prevention