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‘Direct link’ between suicidal thoughts among nurses and workplace pressures

‘Direct link’ between suicidal thoughts among nurses and workplace pressures

This article contains mentions of suicidal ideation, for immediate help please call the Samaritans on 116 123.

There has been a 54% increase in the number of nursing staff seeking support for suicidal thoughts over a six-month period, according to new data from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Analysis by the college suggested that workplace pressures were a ‘central factor’ in the rise.

Between November 2023 and April 2024, the RCN’s advice line was contacted by 171 nursing staff who said they were suffering from suicidal ideation – up 54% on the previous six months when the number of contacts was 111.

This was also more than double (104%) the number of contacts made between November 2022 and April 2023 (84).

The college said it had gone from being contacted by seven RCN members in ‘crisis’ a month in April 2022, to being contacted every single day in April 2024 (30).

Further analysis of data from the RCN’s counselling service showed a ‘direct link between suicidal ideation and workplace pressures’, it said.

More than two-thirds (69%) of nursing staff who had presented with suicidal ideation in their assessment session with the service attributed workplace pressures as a ‘key factor’ behind their search for help.

Workload, formal proceedings, working relationships, bullying and harassment, and work-life balance were also cited by nursing staff.

As part of the RCN’s newly launched election manifesto this week, the college has called on political parties to fund mental health support for all nursing staff by their employer.

RCN acting general secretary and chief executive, Professor Nicola Ranger, said: ‘It should be a moment of great shame that nursing staff are being pushed so hard at work that they feel suicidal.

‘Ministers and health leaders have allowed this mental health crisis to grow. They have serious questions to answer.’

She warned workforce shortages and workplace demands had left nurses ‘sacrificing their own welfare to care for patients’.

‘Intolerable levels of stress have become the norm rather than the exception. It is unacceptable,’ added Professor Ranger.

‘In every setting, nursing staff are suffering but governments and health leaders aren’t paying attention.’

In response to the findings, Hannah Cadogan, a nurse with lived experience of suicidal ideation and member of the RCN’s Suicide Prevention Steering Group, said: ‘Back in 2007 when I was first sectioned under the Mental Health Act as a nurse with suicidal ideation, my experience was that not many people were open about mental health difficulties, and certainly not in the world of nursing which was extremely isolating.

‘The fact that nurses are contacting the RCN to share how they are really feeling is for me a step forward, but this information needs to be acted on, so that nurses are adequately supported with understanding; they can then, hopefully, continue to compassionately care for their patients effectively.’

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