Working to prevent suicide: the role of nurses and other healthcare professionals

Kirsty Fishburn (@spiderlegsmooni); Programme Director, Mental Health Nursing, University of Hull

This week’s EBN Twitter Chat is on Wednesday 3rdJuly (8-9 pm UK time) and will explore healthcare professionals’ roles and responsibilities in the prevention of suicide.

Suicide prevention is a global priority.  Approximately 1 in 5 people have thought about suicide at some point in their lives, and suicide accounts for almost one million deaths annually (Fishburn & Barker, 2019; Samaritans, 2019). This is a devastating number that impacts not only the person undertaking the act, but their friends and family. Whilst it may never be possible to fully understand this phenomena, it needs to be remembered that not all people who attempt suicide want to die and that the act of suicide is still not fully understood. Suicide prevention is a primary concern within contemporary mental health and associated services today.

Suicide can create pejorative views from people, impacting our ability to see the person behind the act (Doyle, Keogh & Morrissey, 2015). Suicidal thoughts can be brief for some, whilst for others, they are an ever-present, debilitating experience. Thoughts in relation to the act of suicide can change in response to current life experiences. This is perhaps where education is needed, and greater insight is required into how we – as healthcare professionals – best work with people who experience these thoughts and undertake these acts.

There are many intricacies of being a professional and working with people who experience thoughts and feelings about suicidality. How do we plan to maintain safety and assist potential imminent risk, whilst seeking out and acknowledging the impact of protective factors (Irigoyen et al, 2019)? How do we protect and support each other, given that suicide is not an act that affects only one person?

There are a range of suicide prevention strategies placed at local, national and international levels, (NICE, 2013), but do they work to protect on a day to day basis, and do they help inform the relationship between the person feeling the need for suicide and the person helping them to see past this act?

The questions that will be explored during the Twitter chat will include;

What warning signs should nurses be looking for that someone may be at risk of attempting suicide? Are suicidal thoughts and acts always related to mental health problems?

What are the core elements of any suicide prevention strategy? What is the role of nurses within those strategies?

How can we better prepare healthcare professionals to support people who are having suicidal thoughts?

If the worst happens, what can healthcare professionals do to support the families of those who have committed suicide? How can healthcare professionals support each other?

Participating in the Twitter chat requires a Twitter account; if you do not already have one you can create an account at Once you have an account, contributing is straightforward: you can follow the discussion via @EBNursingBMJ and #ebnjc, and contribute by tweeting with the hashtag #ebnjc.


Irigoyen M , Porras-Segovia A , Galván L , et al . Predictors of re-attempt in a cohort of suicide attempters: a survival analysis. J Affect Disord 2019;247:20–8.doi:10.1016/j.jad.2018.12.050

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Self-harm quality standard 34, 2013.

Doyle L , Keogh B , Morrissey J . Working with self-harm & suicidal behaviour. London: Palgrave Macmillian, 2015.

Fishburn K, Barker A. Do psychopharmacological interventions affect suicide reattempters? J Edv Nursing 2019.

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