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Female nurses face a greater suicide risk than female physicians, all women: study

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Ann Arbor, MI — Female nurses are nearly two times more likely to die by suicide than the general U.S. female population, and 70% more likely than female physicians, results of a recent study by researchers from the University of Michigan show.

Using data from more than 159,000 cases of suicide reported in the National Violent Death Report System from 2007 to 2018, the researchers identified 2,374 cases involving nurses (1,912 women) and 857 involving physicians (134 women). The remaining 156,141 were from the general population (34,658 women). For female nurses, the suicide incident rate was 17.1 per 100,000 – outpacing the rates for female physicians (10.1) and women in the general population (8.6). Among men, the suicide incident rates for nurses and physicians were 31.1 and 31.5 per 100,000, respectively, which aren’t statistically different from that of the general population (32.6).

According to a UM press release, around 3 million people work as nurses in the United States, making them the largest workforce in health care. Of the 3 million, 85% are women.

Although the study period preceded the COVID-19 pandemic, lead study author Matthew Davis, an associate professor at the UM School of Nursing, notes in the release that the pandemic likely put more stress on female nurses who are mothers and have children who transitioned to virtual learning at home.

“The takeaway for me is we’ve focused so much on physician welfare that, historically, we haven’t paid enough attention to this huge workforce that, based on our data, is at much higher risk,” Davis said.

 

The researchers also found that, for nurses who died by suicide, overdose was the most common cause. Nurses and physicians who die by suicide are more likely to have antidepressants, benzodiazepines, barbiturates and opiates in their systems. This suggests that health care professionals have a greater need for additional behavioral health awareness, according to the researchers.

The study was published online April 14 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

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