Nurses are at ‘particular risk’ of suicide because of a ‘unique combination’ of workplace pressures, patient demands and worries about seeking mental health support, a new suicide prevention toolkit has warned.
The toolkit, published by NHS England and spearheaded by the chief nursing officer (CNO) and the chief workforce officer in England, has been launched to better support NHS organisations to reduce the risk of suicide among the workforce.
It aims to help organisations ‘embed suicide prevention strategies’ and ‘guide the approach to supporting those at risk of suicide’, said a foreword by co-commissioners CNO Dame Ruth May and chief workforce officer Dr Navina Evans.
Data highlighted within the toolkit flagged the rate of suicide by women aged under 24 had increased in 2021 to its highest level since 1981. And it noted that female nurses had a 23% higher rate of suicide than other women.
The 21-page document said it ‘has been suggested that nurses remain at particular risk of suicide due to a unique combination of attributing factors’.
These included ‘mounting pressures to work extended/extra shifts, self-imposed psychological pressures due to patient dependence, and lack of engagement of mental health support due to fears of job insecurity or perceived collegial failure’.
Pointing to the results of a staff survey on work-related stress, the toolkit flagged that anxiety, stress, depression or another psychiatric illness had been given as reasons for sickness related absences within the NHS at an increasing rate in recent years.
And data from NHS Digital had showed that in England, the level of absence due to stress and anxiety had accounted for 25% of all sickness absences.
The document also noted the negative impact that providing healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the mental health of the workforce and warned that the current cost-of-living crisis has ‘further added to the potential stressors that may increase the risk of suicide within the NHS workforce’.
‘Intersectional inequalities are also likely to impact on the exposure to factors that increase the risk of suicide,’ said the toolkit, which pointed to the negative consequences of stereotyping and discrimination faced by staff on their mental wellbeing.
The new toolkit, published last week, hopes to help raise awareness of poor mental health and suicidality among healthcare staff; provides signposting information; outlines examples of good organisational practice and offers recommendations to support organisations’ suicide prevention strategies.
‘NHS staff have always gone above and beyond to support the millions of patients they care for every day but looking after ourselves and our people is of paramount importance too,’ said a foreword by co-commissioners Dame Ruth and Dr Evans.
‘The pandemic created an environment with unprecedented challenges for staff, who were also dealing with the impact of lockdowns and grief in their personal lives.
‘The challenges facing the NHS now can also feel relentless at times. Our support for our colleagues is needed more than ever.’
They added: ‘We are committed to building on our existing resources to support the mental health and wellbeing of NHS staff, and to creating environments where staff feel able to be honest about how they are feeling and comfortable in asking for help.’
The move from NHS England comes as the government today launches a new national strategy to prevent suicide across the country.
More than 100 measures have been outlined in the strategy in a bid to help save lives, provide early intervention and support anyone going through the trauma of a crisis.
This includes a new national alert system to notify relevant authorities of emerging suicide methods and risks, fresh guidance for first responders and a ‘near real-time’ surveillance of trends in suicides.
As part of the strategy, the Department of Health and Social Care has also committed to working with NHS England and professional bodies to ‘improve suicide prevention signposting and support to people in contact with primary care services’.
If you need someone to talk to the Samaritans can be contacted on 116123 and The Laura Hyde Foundation – a mental health charity set up in memory of a Royal Navy nurse who died by suicide – can be found here.