Although previous studies have revealed professional consequences of burnout among nurses, less is known about the potential personal consequences. This study investigated the prevalence of suicidal ideation and attitudes toward help seeking among U.S. nurses relative to other workers, and the extent to which personal and professional factors, including burnout, were related to suicidal ideation.
In November 2017, a cross-sectional survey was sent to 86,858 nurses who were members of the American Nurses Association and to a probability-based sample of 5,198 U.S. workers. The survey included questions regarding suicidal ideation, burnout, symptoms of depression, individual and professional characteristics, and willingness to seek professional help if a serious emotional problem arose. Multivariable logistic regression analyses were conducted to identify factors associated with suicidal ideation after controlling for other factors.
Among the 7,378 nurse respondents, 403 (5.5%) reported having suicidal ideation within the past year. Most nurses (84.2%) indicated willingness to seek professional help for a serious emotional problem. Yet nurses with suicidal ideation were less likely to report that they'd seek such help (72.6%) than nurses without suicidal ideation (85%). In a multivariable analysis of nurses' data, after controlling for other personal and professional characteristics, we found that burnout was strongly associated with suicidal ideation. Adjusted combined multivariable analyses showed that nurses were more likely than other workers to have suicidal ideation. Both nurses and other workers who reported suicidal ideation were less likely to seek help than were those who did not report such ideation.
Compared with other U.S. workers, nurses are at higher risk for suicidal ideation, and nurses with such ideation are more reluctant to seek help than those without it. Burnout contributes to the risk of suicidal ideation. These issues warrant greater attention. Systems- and practice-level interventions must be identified and implemented, both to address the higher prevalences of burnout and suicidal ideation in nurses and to mitigate the stigma about mental health problems and other barriers to seeking help.