Suicide risk among healthcare workers increases significantly

Dr. Mark Olfson

Credit: Research Gate

Registered nurses, medical technicians, and medical support workers are at higher risk for suicide than the general population.1

A new study led by Mark Olfson, M.D., of Columbia University’s Department of Psychology, finds that the stressful and emotional work of health care workers can take a toll on them and increase their risk of suicide.

The risk of suicide among healthcare workers is not a new finding. Although the risk of suicide among health care workers has been decreasing compared to previous decades, this study sought to estimate the risk of death by suicide in recent years.

“Little is known about occupational exposures associated with specific medical tasks that contribute to suicide risk,” Olfson and researchers wrote. “For example, some, but not all, studies have linked burnout to suicidal ideation.”

A team of US researchers conducted a new cohort study of 1.84 million working adults to compare suicide risk among health care workers and non-health care workers. Participants were selected through the Mortality Disparities in American Communities (MDAC) dataset, which links 2008 American Community Survey (ACS) participants to national mortality index records. Researchers selected ACS participants who were 26 years of age or older.

Healthcare workers were stratified by six occupations. Medical support personnel, including nurses, psychiatrists, home health aides, and other support personnel. Health technicians and technicians. Social/behavioral health workers, including social workers, counselors, and psychologists. Other medical diagnostic workers, including dentists and physician assistants. And finally the doctor.

The median age of study participants was 44 years (IQR, 35-53). The proportion of female workers in each cohort ranged from one-third of physicians (32.4%) to 91.1% of registered nurses.

Using non-health care workers as a reference, four of the six observed health care worker cohorts were found to be at significantly higher risk of suicide after adjusting for gender and age-based disparities.

  • Registered nurse (adjusted hazard ratio) [aHR]1.32; 95% CI, 1.13 – 1.54)
  • Health support workers (aHR, 1.64; 95% CI, 1.21 – 2.23)
  • Medical technicians (aHR, 1.81; 95% CI, 1.35 – 2.42)
  • Social/behavioral health workers (aHR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.02 – 1.89)

Furthermore, although physicians had a higher risk of suicide compared to non-medical personnel, the difference was not statistically significant (aHR, 1.11; 95% CI, 0.71 – 1.72). Physicians who diagnose or treat in “other” health care actually had a lower risk of suicide (aHR, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.36–1.03).

Female healthcare workers were found to have a 50% higher risk of suicide compared to their non-healthcare colleagues (aHR, 1.50; 95% CI, 1.21 to 1.87). Based on the results, the researchers say future studies could “explore potential explanatory mechanisms related to gender, such as gender differences in work roles, job satisfaction, and occupational stress.” He suggested that there was.

Overall, the researchers observed 14.1 suicides per 100,000 years (95% CI, 12.1 to 16.1), standardizing for the sex and age of the health care worker. This represents a 32% increased risk of suicide among healthcare workers compared to the general population of controls (aHR). , 1.32; 95% CI, 1.13 – 1.54; P = .006).

Olfson et al. say their study is consistent with previous data showing that health care workers are more likely to have mental health problems and mood disorders and to be absent from work due to such mental health problems. I explained that there was. Additionally, despite previous declines, the risk of suicide among healthcare workers has increased compared to the past 20 years.

“The importance of increased suicide risk among health care workers is underscored by the fact that their number increased from 3.8 million (2008) to 6.6 million (2021), coinciding with the aging of the U.S. population. ”, the research team wrote.

One of the limitations of this study was that individual survey responses could not be ascertained, so occupational status was based on a one-time assessment, so participants were not healthcare workers and had changed jobs at the time of death. There was a possibility that I would retire. .

Another limitation was that the mortality data ended in 2019, cutting off suicide risk that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health of care workers has received considerable attention nationally,” the researchers wrote. “Efforts to improve the mental health of healthcare workers may lose momentum as the pandemic recedes.”

The researchers also noted how current research highlights the risk of suicide among mental health workers.

“To address this challenge, it is important to identify and improve the specific work-related factors that contribute to occupational mental health risks for healthcare workers, especially registered nurses, medical technicians, and healthcare support workers. “Yes,” the researchers concluded.


Olfson M, Cosgrove CM, Wall MM, Blanco C. Suicide risk among health care workers in the United States. jam. 2023;330(12):1161-1166. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.15787

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