University of Michigan Study Finds High Suicide Risk Among Women Who Are Nurses

Nurses who are women are roughly twice as likely to die by suicide than women in the general population. They are 70 percent more likely than women physicians to die by suicide, according to a new University of Michigan study. Among male nurses, the risk of suicide is no higher than the general male population, the study found.

There are roughly 3 million nurses working in the United States, making it the country’s largest health care workforce — 85 percent of whom are women.

Researchers analyzed mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control from 2007 to 2018, identifying 2,374 suicides among nurses, 857 among physicians, and 156,141 in the general population. They found that among women in 2017-2018, the suicide incidence among nurses was 17.1 per 100 000, compared to a rate of 8.6 per 100 000 in the general female population. Thus, the suicide risk for women nurses was just about double the rate for women as a whole.

“The nurses I work with routinely face tougher challenges at home that place added stress on them, such as caregiving for children or parents,” explains co-author Christopher Friese, the Elizabeth Tone Hosmer Professor of Nursing and professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “You put the workplace and home stressors together and it’s no surprise that nurses are struggling. I worry that without concerted action, things may get worse before they get better.”

Matthew Davis, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing and lead author of the study, added that “the extraordinary demands that COVID-19 has placed on women – from homeschooling to finding child care – exacerbates the stress these nurses experience.” The current study did not include data from the pandemic, which means these numbers could be even higher now.

The full study, “Association of US Nurse and Physician Occupation With Risk of Suicide,” was published on the website of the JAMA Psychiatry. It may be accessed here.

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