Nurses are always the “strong ones” in the hospital. However, a recent study out of UC San Diego Health revealed an alarmingly higher rate of nurses die by suicide compared to other professions. The study also revealed most nurses are not getting the mental health support they need.
“It’s a very difficult, emotional profession,” said Marti Neuenswander. The registered nurse cares for upward of 36 patients at a time on the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at UC San Diego’s Jacobs Center.
“It’s a difficult thing to really try to manage caring for [patients] while caring for ourselves emotionally,” she added.
Some days, the stress boils over.
“Sometimes there’s work stress. Sometimes there’s home stress. And sometimes there’s both at the same time,” said Neuenswander.
It almost broke the veteran nurse two years ago.
“I was feeling overwhelmed,” she said. “I would come to work, and the emotional strain was very difficult.”
“We see a lot of things in the workplace that a lot of people would never see in their lives,” said Judy Davidson, a UC San Diego Nursing & Psychiatry Researcher.
Davidson also saw the stress in the statistics. The Doctor of Nursing Practice conducted a study and found female nurses die by suicide 58% more often than the general population. Davidson found male nurses die by suicide 41% more often.
“Nurses are better at caring for others than caring for themselves and we have just not looked inward,” said Davidson.
“It can be difficult. It can be difficult, yes,” agreed Neuenswander.
Davidson said she hopes more hospitals adopt what UC San Diego hospitals already put in place a few years ago. She said UC San Diego has an internal counseling program designed specifically for nurses and medical providers.
“The pressure comes at them from all angles,” said Rachael Accardi, one of the program’s therapists.
“They forget about themselves and so I get to be that person that gets to remind them and see them thrive,” said Accardi.
Accardi pointed out that first responders often take leave after traumatic episodes; whereas nurses and doctors regularly deal with sick and dying patients but are expected to go back to work minutes later with another patient.
“The more honest they can be, the more genuine they can be about their experience,” said Accardi.
“We see a lot of things in the workplace that a lot of people would never see in their lives,” said Davidson. “People are starting to speak up when they need help.”
That included Neuenswander. She said she never contemplated suicide, but she recognized she needed to talk to someone. She took advantage of the counseling provided by UC San Diego.
“I feel lucky to work for a place that does acknowledge that aspect,” said Neuenswander. “Having a program like this really provides permission for us to reach out.”
Davidson said UC San Diego has not lost a nurse or doctor to suicide since they started the counseling program a decade ago.
“People are starting to speak up when they need help,” said Davidson. “It’s rewarding and it’s sad at the same time. To know how many nurses we’re identifying every year that need help, that’s sad but knowing they’re now getting the help, that’s rewarding.”