Relative to the general U.S. population, registered nurses, healthcare support workers and health technicians are more likely to die by suicide, according to a new study.

The study, published Sept. 26 in JAMA, examines a nationally representative cohort of approximately 1.84 million employed adults ages 26 and older observed from 2008 through 2019. Researchers specifically estimated age- and sex-standardized suicide rates for healthcare worker groups (physicians, registered nurses, other healthcare-diagnosing or treating practitioners, health technicians, healthcare support workers, social/behavioral health workers) and non-healthcare workers.

The study found that annual standardized suicide rates per 100,000 people were 21.4 for healthcare support workers, 16 for registered nurses, and 15.6 for health technicians. These are higher than rates for physicians (13.1), social/behavioral health workers (10.1), other healthcare-diagnosing or treating practitioners (7.6), and non-healthcare workers (12.6). 

The report also found that healthcare work overall was more strongly associated with suicide risk among female than male workers. 

Researchers noted several study limitations, including that the mortality data, which ended in 2019, do not reflect suicide risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to stress factors related to their jobs, “healthcare workers’ relationship roles are often characterized as having a kind of a high achievement and a perfectionistic or compulsive personality traits that can make them excessively devoted to their work and have trouble taking time off,” one of the study’s authors, Mark Olfson, MD, a professor in New York City-based Columbia University’s psychiatry department, said, according to HealthDay. “And all of this can contribute to poor self-care and delay them recognizing a need for help. There’s also a lot of stigma that continues just around mental healthcare.”

Researchers concluded that new programmatic efforts are needed to protect healthcare workers’ mental health.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources. To learn more, click here.


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