Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was deeply concerned about the mental health of our nation’s nurses. Why? Because in the course of conducting research to develop the first nurse suicide prevention program in the United States, I made an alarming discovery: Nurses are at higher risk of suicide than the age- and gender-matched population in the United States, and have been for many years. This published resource provides information on the increased risk of suicide in nurses.
Now, as the adrenaline of the early part of the pandemic is behind us, we are moving past the initial honeymoon phase and heading for a period of unpredictability, a predictable outcome in a disaster response. During a crisis, many people who are under extreme stress drink more alcohol, misuse medications or take illicit drugs. While these actions are often efforts to self-medicate because of emotional pain, they can actually increase the risk for suicide.
What can we do, now that we know that we and our colleagues are at risk? Here are evidence-based strategies that can help:
Resources for You
- Start a practice of mindfulness and gratitude to bolster resilience.
- Participate in the AACN Peer Support, Nurses Self-Care or Nurses Tell It Like It Is communities.
- Set boundaries for working overtime, so you have time off for self-care.
- Connect with your colleagues in an authentic way.
- Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength and courage as it shows awareness of the problem and a willingness to do something about it. There are free mental health resources specifically for nurses available through the Well-Being Initiative. If you need help right away, call the Crisis Hotline (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-662-HELP).
How to Help Others
- Take time to listen when a colleague seems burned out or vents to you.
- Reach out with kind words more than you ever have before.
- Intentional acts of kindness are especially helpful. Consider implementing Code Lavender kits to help staff relieve stress. They include words of comfort, chocolate, lavender essential oil and employee health referral information.
- Suicide Prevention and Intervention Resources for Clinicians in Distress outlines the signs of suicidal intent and how to use a crisis intervention approach.
- Encourage colleagues to seek help. If you feel they are in imminent danger, seek help on their behalf using the Crisis Hotline mentioned above.
For more information about mental health and nursing, visit the ANA webpage: Mental Health Help for Nurses.
Before writing this blog, I went on a ‘COVID’ day off, finding peace and restoration by driving through the high desert of California, admiring cactus, tumbleweed and sage. I needed it! I was snapping at people, irritated by my mistakes and those of others. These signals require attention. Throw away the thought that you can’t possibly take a day off. If you don’t, the profession could be less one very good nurse: You.
If you have additional ideas to raise awareness and help prevent nurse suicide, share them below.