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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Study: Healthcare Workers At Greater Risk of Suicide

Burnout doctor

By Jill Drachenberg, Editor, Relias Media

It is no secret that healthcare workers (HCWs) struggle with depression, anxiety, and burnout — issues that have only increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many health systems across the United States are implementing employee wellness and support programs to alleviate stress and burnout. However, the results of a new study revealed non-physician HCWs are at a greater risk for suicide.

Investigators studied a sample of 1.8 million HCWs through the American Community Survey from 2008 to 2019, including physicians, registered nurses (RNs), health technicians, diagnosing or treating practitioners, support workers, and social/behavioral health workers. They found these suicide rates for each group (per 100,000 person years):

  • 21 for healthcare support workers;
  • 16 for RNs;
  • 16 for health technicians;
  • 13 for physicians;
  • 10 for social/behavioral health workers;
  • 8 for diagnosing or treating practitioners;
  • 13 for non-HCWs.

Moreover, investigators found female HCWs are at greater risk of suicide than their male colleagues. The finding “raises the possibility that gender differences in healthcare work roles, job satisfaction, and occupational stress may contribute to the proportionately greater risks of suicide faced by female than male healthcare workers than non-healthcare workers,” according to a statement accompanying the study.

“Our results extend earlier research from outside the United States that health care workers compared with non-healthcare workers have greater risks for mental health problems and long-term work absences due to mental disorders,” said Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, lead study author and professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “The importance of increased suicide risk of health care support workers is underscored by their growth from nearly 4 million in 2008 to 6.6 million in 2021.”

More research is needed to understand the causes of these higher risks, Olfson said. Look for more coverage on this study and its implications in an upcoming issue of Hospital Employee Health.