The hidden issue of nurse suicide – how can we better to support our nursing colleagues?

This week’s Blog is written by Dr Pauline Milne (@NHSPauline). In it she reflects on the hidden issue of nurse suicide. This is particularly pertinent during the current COVID19 outbreak. Pauline will be exploring ways of better supporting nurses during a Winston Churchill Travel Scholarship later this year (#ChurchillFellow2020)

During my NHS career I have developed a particular interest in the nursing workforce and in ensuring that nurses are well supported in their roles thorough good staffing levels, an enabling infrastructure and an open, supportive culture.

I was saddened to discover that rates of suicide in nurses are 23% higher than the general population in England (ONS data).  Over the period 2011-2017, 300 nurses ended their lives through suicide.  Although these high rates of nurse suicide have persisted for many years, the issue has been largely unacknowledged and consequently there has been a lack of attention focussed on addressing this.

As 2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, it is an ideal time to raise awareness of this issue, to look to good practice in other countries and ultimately to identify screening opportunities and develop interventions aimed specifically at reducing suicide rates in nurses.

Nurse suicide is a complex issue with a range of potential predisposing factors or stressors which may be personal  (including relationships issues, bereavement, dependence of drugs or alcohol, poor mental health, isolation and loneliness) or work related (including workload, burnout, management, disciplinary issues, perceptions of competence and quality of available supervision).

We need to better understand the data to establish the predisposing factors and to develop best practice approaches to identify nurses at high risk of suicide and targeting interventions appropriately to support them.

In the current climate with the COVID19 outbreak we need to recognise the unprecedented situations nurses are working under on a daily basis and endeavour to ensure that nurses are supported in their roles.During this time of increased stress, pressure and workload it is important to be kind to colleagues and to help identify those who may need additional support

This issue is not confined to the UK and we need to look at what lessons can be learned from other countries.  I am very privileged to have been awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship this year to research the work other countries are doing to specifically address nurse suicide and identify actions that could be taken forward in the UK.


Dr Pauline Milne MBE PhD MN BN RN

Contact email

Twitter @NHSPauline




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