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We can be part of the solution: Nurse suicide risk

We can be part of the solution: Nurse suicide risk
Jan York

September 2023

Jan York is a nurse suicidologist and has been practicing in suicidology since the 1980s, including prevention and implementation research, clinical practice, policy, advocacy, forensics, philanthropy, mentorship, training, and scholarship.

Suicide prevention is my passion, and it has been a privilege to engage in multisector partnerships, including with survivors. I serve as an expert in suicide-specific research. I am also the survivor of a family suicide in the last decade and have learned so much from the shared experience with family, client, colleague, and friend survivors.

I collaborated on an APNA task force that developed the APNA PMH Nurse Essential Competencies for Assessment and Management of Individuals at Risk for Suicide, which was adapted from the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) & American Association of Suicidality (AAS) training. Along with acute care nurse colleagues, the task force developed an early evidence-based means restriction intervention for acute care settings.

The rate of suicide among nurses in the United States and most other countries who have studied nurses is greater than both the general population and those in some other professions. The rate of self-poisoning as a method is also higher in nurses. As psychiatric-mental health nurses, we need a call to action to join forces with other sectors to address this crisis. We need to understand the crisis of nurse suicide, how little this crisis is recognized, the factors that contribute to nurse suicide risk, and how much stigma serves as a barrier for nurses to seek help and support. We can bring action at all levels: individual, interpersonal, and community.

Each loss of a nurse by suicide leaves scars. We can each take some action to prevent this.

One of our professional communities is nurses. Each loss of a nurse by suicide leaves scars. We can each take some action to prevent this. We need to reach out to nurses in our work, social, and personal environments when we see signs of burnout, depression, trauma, and substance use.

We all can be part of saving lives. We can reach out to someone at risk, facilitate their contact with services, be present for them as they recover, and collaborate to bring resources to the work environment.

  • We can model an environment in which suicide and seeking help is discussed and not stigmatized and where reaching out to nurses in psychological pain is done with intent and compassion.
  • We can be the champions of wellness initiatives and mental health resources that have the potential to save the lives of fellow nurses.
  • We need to facilitate safe environments for nurses at risk, develop expertise in means restriction education, and practice safe prescribing for clients who are nurses.

Nurse leaders care about this issue and are leading initiatives to facilitate prioritization through research, prevention, and policy activities. Those nurse leaders include:

  • Dr. Judy Davidson, University of California San Diego, is a national expert in nurse suicide and a leader in nurse-specific epidemiological studies and prevention interventions. Read more from Dr. Davidson and hear from her with this Free CE for APNA members through October 4.
  • Dr. Connie Ulrich, University of Pennsylvania, an expert in bioethics, is conducting a large Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s-funded study on nurse wellness, including assessment of suicide risk.
  • Dr. Bernadette Melnyk, Ohio State University, a leader in wellness initiatives for nurses, was recently funded by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for a project, “Hear plus Mind Body Strong: A Mental Health Resiliency Intervention for Nurses.”
Resources for nurse-specific suicide prevention:
>>> Support those in your care and community: Get suicide prevention & recovery-based resources from APNA.
>>> Need help now? Call or text 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, 24-hour confidential help.


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About APNA: The American Psychiatric Nurses Association is a national professional membership organization committed to the practice of psychiatric-mental health nursing and wellness promotion, prevention of mental health problems, and the care and treatment of persons with psychiatric disorders. APNA’s membership is inclusive of all psychiatric-mental health registered nurses including associate degree, baccalaureate, advanced practice (comprised of clinical nurse specialists and psychiatric nurse practitioners), and nurse scientists and academicians (PhD). APNA serves as a resource for psychiatric-mental health nurses to engage in networking, education, and the dissemination of evidence. The American Psychiatric Nurses Association is accredited as a provider of continuing nursing professional development by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation.