Lee Anne Walmsley, Julie Marfell and Paul Norrod
OPINION by Julie Marfell, Paul Norrod and Lee Anne Walmsley
Nurses are the backbone of health care, supporting and protecting their patients. During the Covid-19 pandemic, nurses have soldiered through an increased workload, short staffing, fear of becoming sick or worse exposing their families to sickness and very ill patients, many of whom died with a nurse by their side and no family members. The load nurses have carried over the past two years is consistently heavy and, with no relief in sight, the backbone is feeling the strain. As nurses continue to move forward, we must find ways to lift this burden. The high price for the burden is losing nurses to suicide.
Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. Nurse suicide rates continue to rise with female nurses experiencing higher suicide mortality compared to other occupations. By contrast, male and female nurses are more likely to experience job problems and mental health challenges than the general population which increases the risk of suicide. In Kentucky, approximately 58 nurses have died by suicide since 2016; one is too many.
Nurses need continued support to thrive as a profession. In January, the Kentucky Board of Nursing mandated that all nurses must complete nurse suicide-prevention continuing education. The Kentucky Nurses Action Coalition, with the support of the Kentucky Nurses Association, developed an educational video and program to address suicide prevention for nurses. Visit kentucky-nurses.org for more information. This program teaches nurses how to identify signs of overwhelming stress and hopelessness in themselves and others that are risk factors for dying by suicide. It also emphasizes the importance of self-care to reduce stress and reaching out for help to carry the load and relieve some of the burden.
An increased awareness of the risk for suicide is crucial for the health of the nursing workforce. To remain strong, nurses need to support in all aspects of their work and everyday lives. This includes encouraging and providing opportunities to maintain healthy lifestyles, training in suicide prevention and removing the stigma attached to mental health illnesses. We all must develop an understanding that just like other illnesses, we can prevent mental health problems and treat them with lifestyle changes and medications.
National Nurses Month affords us the opportunity to show our appreciation for nurses and we appreciate the accolades; however, it’s important to remember to thank nurses every day, 365 days a year. If you have a friend or relative who is a nurse, check in with them, and when you ask them how they are doing. please listen. Hear what they are saying and support them. Help them get the help they need to be well. We all need to take care of nurses for without a strong backbone we cannot stand tall.
The National Suicide Prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Text HOME to 741741 to speak anonymously with a crisis counselor. Kentucky Community Mental Health Centers are listed at https://dbhdid.ky.gov/crisisnos.aspx
Julie Marfell, DNP, FNP-BC, FAANP, is president of the Kentucky Nurses Action Coalition and an associate professor in the University of Kentucky College of Nursing; Paul Norrod, DrPH, M.Div., MA-C, RN, is a member of the coalition and an instructor in the College of Nursing; LeeAnne Walmsley, PhD, EdS, MSN, RN, is an assistant professor in the college.