This report, authored by the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH), was commissioned by NHS England/NHS Improvement in response to a report by the Office for National Statistics that identified female nurses as having a risk of suicide 23% above the risk in women in other occupations.
This was a brief study aimed to establish preliminary data about women who died by suicide while employed as nurses. To do this, NCISH carried out an examination of Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on female nurses who died by suicide during a six-year period (2011-2016) was carried out with a detailed analysis of female nurse suicides using the NCISH database of people who died by suicide within 12 months of mental health service contact, including comparison with other female patients.
- 281 nurses who died by suicide were identified over the six-year study period; of these 204 (73%) were female – these were the main focus of the study.
- Female nurses were older than other women who died by suicide; nearly half were aged 45-54 years.
- The most common method of suicide for female nurses was self-poisoning (42%). •
- More than half (60%) of female nurses who died were not in contact with mental health services.
- 102 nurses who died were identified as patients; of these, 81 (79%) were female and their clinical histories were examined further.
- Their age distribution was similar to that of nurses in the general population who die by suicide, 40% being aged 45-54 years.
- Female nurses who were patients were similar to female patients in other occupations. The main primary diagnoses were affective disorders (59%), followed by personality disorders (19%). Overall 41% had a history of alcohol misuse and 20% reported a history of drug misuse. Nearly two-thirds of female nurses had a history of self-harm (64%).
- Self-poisoning accounted for 48% of the deaths by female nurses. The main drugs taken were psychotropics (33%), opiates (31%), and paracetamol (19%).
- Although prevalence of experiencing adverse life events within three months of death was similar across the groups, female nurses were reported to have more workplace problems (18%).
- There were few differences in the care received by the female nurses and by women in other occupations, though it was less common for nurses to have had a previous short psychiatric admission of seven days or fewer, and they were more often prescribed SSRIs/SNRIs.