Suicide is considered to be a preventable public health problem, though prevention efforts are beset by seemingly unsurmountable individual, relationship, and societal issues. It is important to keep in mind that, although mass shootings are in the news on a daily basis, nearly twice as many suicides as homicides occur each year in the United States.
For nurses and other healthcare professionals, recognizing warning signs, risk, and protective factors and understanding the importance of screening and assessment can help suicidal patients and co-workers get the help they need to prevent self-harm. Yet nurses and other direct care providers consistently point to the need for training (and experience) to better help them identify people at risk for suicide.
The COVID pandemic laid bare weaknesses that have plagued our healthcare system for many years. Several thousand healthcare workers died from COVID and many more fell ill, highlighting the dangers faced by these workers. Co-worker deaths from COVID and from suicide, societal frustration, and an alarming shortage of needed equipment and supplies placed a tremendous burden on nurses and other direct care providers.
As we emerge from the global pandemic, remember that many of the troubling issues that healthcare providers faced during the pandemic are still with us. The job is still stressful. Institutional support for workers is still uneven and in some sectors of our healthcare system, completely lacking. There are still massive staffing shortages. And nurse suicides are still happening.
Suicide among nurses is more common than generally acknowledged and is often shrouded in silence, at least in part due to stigma related to mental health and its treatment. In the nursing profession, there is an alarming lack of research on the factors that cause a nurse to commit suicide.
Education and training, along with institutional support are urgently needed to improve identification of people at risk for suicidal ideation and behaviors. Programs such as the Healer Education, Assessment, and Referral program piloted for nurses at the University of California at San Diego is an innovative program that provides support and resources for those in need. This program, along with other suicide education and support programs can change the lives of people at risk for suicide.