Increased Risk of Suicide in Nurses

Nurses go to work and are exposed to human tragedy on a daily basis. On any given day, a nurse will see patients who are diagnosed with serious and/or terminal illnesses, death, domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, and more. A nurse is there to comfort those facing horrible news and terrible losses. The nurse is meant to treat while empathetically dealing with both the patient and their loved ones. That nurse goes home at the end of the shift, only to go back to work the next day to do it all over again. Every day, they face the potential of becoming victims of violence, bullying, and meeting the high expectations, and sometimes unattainable requirements put forth by management.

Davidson et al. (2020b) completed an analysis of nurse suicide in the United States which consisted of data collected from 2005 – 2016. Statistics were analyzed from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Violent Death Reporting System and showed that nurses were at a greater risk of suicide than the general population (Davidson et al., 2020b). Job-related difficulties put nurses at a higher probability of committing suicide. More nurses were also found to have a history of mental health problems. In an interview with MedPage Today, one of the authors of the study, Judy Davidson, RN, DNP, stated that while most believe issues at home were major factors in suicide, the data shows “there’s something in nursing as a profession that needs to be fixed to decrease the risk.” (Firth, 2020a)

Nurses will continue to face emotionally challenging, unmodifiable situations as part of the career they have chosen. Davidson notes that the research showed nurses experience depression, anxiety, and burnout (Firth, 2020b). Lateral violence, also known as “nurse bullying,” is considered the number one cause of work-related stress (Firth, 2020b). Other issues reported by nurses include leadership deficiencies, staff shortages, and not feeling appreciated (Firth, 2020b). These are workplace stressors that Davidson considers to be modifiable (Firth, 2020b). 

Once Davidson and her colleagues realized nurses were at a higher risk of suicide than the general population, they decided to pilot a nurse specific Healer Education Assessment and Referral (HEAR) suicide prevention program. The HEAR program was initially designed for physicians, and Davidson et al. (2020a) decided to tailor the program for nurses and evaluate its efficacy over the course of three years. Data was also analyzed to determine what caused their symptoms and led them to be classified as a moderate to high risk of suicide.

Nurses were screened over a three-year program through an anonymous, confidential portal, and then were classified by their risk level for suicide. A HEAR program therapist would review the surveys, and the nurses with increased suicide risk were contacted through a secure portal and given the option to receive support from therapists electronically, over the phone, or in person. During the study 527 nurses were screened, 254 were categorized as high risk, 270 were considered moderate risk, 48 had thoughts of suicide, and 51 reported they had previously attempted suicide (Davidson et al., 2020a). Over the three years of study, 176 nurses accepted support from therapists (Davidson et al., 2020a). This study shows it would be beneficial for healthcare facilities to implement programs such as HEAR, to evaluate nurses and offer help on an anonymous basis. 

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


Davidson, J. E., Accardi, R., Sanchez, C., Zisook, S., & Hoffman, L. A. (2020a). Sustainability and Outcomes of a Suicide Prevention Program for Nurses. Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing17(1), 24–31. doi: 10.1111/wvn.12418

Davidson, J. E., Proudfoot, J., Lee, K., Terterian, G., & Zisook, S. (2020b). A Longitudinal Analysis of Nurse Suicide in the United States (2005–2016) With Recommendations for Action. Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing17(1), 6–15. doi: 10.1111/wvn.12419

Firth, S. (2020a, February 14). Nurses Face Higher-Than-Average Suicide Risk. Retrieved from

Firth, S. (2020b, February 14). Suicide Prevention Program Targets High-Risk Nurses. Retrieved from