The Hidden Secret: Nurse Suicide is On the Rise

By: Peggy Pilon, BSN, MS, RN,  VP of Clinical Success

Normally I prefer to write about how data science and technology along with Nursing can work together to improve healthcare in so many ways. The sky’s the limit and it excites me and renews me everyday. But today, I speak from the heart.


I recently received the article from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses stating that nurses have a higher risk of suicide than the general population. This stopped me in my tracks. How can this be? How could I have missed this? I felt compelled to take a deeper look at this shocking issue.

Judy Davidson, DNP, RN, an UC San Diego nursing and psychiatry researcher coauthored one the the first papers specifically studying nurse suicide. She found suicide rates nearly 58% higher for female nurses and 41% for male nurses when compared to the general population. Dr. Davidson also states that “Female nurses have been at greater risk since 2005 and males since 2011. Unexpectedly, the data does not reflect a rise in suicide, but rather that nurse suicide has been unaddressed for years.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Prevention National Violent Death Reporting System, found that from 2007 to 2018, registered nurses were 18% more likely to die from suicide than the general population. The same results were support by a surveyed conducted by the American Medical Association in December 2020, revealing 5% of the 2333 responding nurses experienced suicidal ideation. The University of Michigan study showed in 2021 that female nurses were roughly twice as likely to die by suicide than the general female population and 70% more likely than female physicians to commit suicide. Where as in the UK, the Laura Hyde Foundation (a mental health charity) revealed that 366 nurses in 2022 had attempted suicide, which was a significant increase from 2021.

Factors that Contribute to Nurse Suicide:

Dr. Judy E. Davidson states that from her research ….”nurses were more likely to have a known job-related problem prior to death.”

Other factors include:

  • High occupational stress/Burnout


Dr Christopher R. Friese, RN, Professor of Nursing at the University of Michigan with more than 20 years of nursing experience shares…“I’m worried about two key issues in today’s workplace,…First, health care systems are placing increased demands on nurses, physicians and other health care workers. Even before COVID, nurses reported substantial workplace stressors, including reduced staffing, increased complexity of care and additional bureaucratic tasks. Second, the nurses I work with routinely face tougher challenges at home that place added stress on them, such as caregiving for children or parents. You put the workplace and home stressors together and it’s no surprise that nurses are struggling. I worry that without concerted action, things may get worse before they get better.”

According to the 2018 study authors, there is other literature that suggests there are barriers to accessing mental health assistance for RNs include a fear of impacting one’s career, questions about confidentiality, difficulties in obtaining time off work for treatment, and difficulties scheduling appointments. In addition, some states inquire about mental health history on nursing licensure applications and or renewals causing nurses to feel stigmatized and potentially penalized by addressing their mental health concerns.

The reason I was shocked about the suicide rate of nurses, is because most of the published research about clinician suicide rates deals only in the context of doctors.    Physician suicide is a major issue that has plagued healthcare for years, and continues to be an immensely  important issue today. The irony here is that I’m an experienced nurse leader and even my attention has been focused solely on the physicians. Nurses are such an integral part of our healthcare system,that this shocking data needs to be recognized to initiate change.

I am by no means a mental health expert. But the growing problem of nurse suicide is multifactorial and a call to attention for all nurse leaders. If we want to reduce nurse suicide rates, we must act now. The healthcare industry is already suffering from a shortage of nurses, and this problem will only get worse if more nurses continue to leave the profession due to mental illness or die by suicide. We can start with making their workplace a quiet and manageable environment. It is important that we work with the tech industry to use current technologies and help develop more AI solutions that are designed to lessen the cognitive workload nurses carry. We can come together to make a change in the profession for a brighter future. President Barack Obama stated…Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” After all, these are our colleagues and we want our legacy as nurse leaders to be one of support and making a positive difference in the lives of others.