Nurse Suicide: Prevention and Grief Management

Judy E. Davidson, DNP, RN, MCCM, FAAN; Rachael Accardi, MA, LMFT; Courtney Sanchez, LCSW; Sidney Zisook, MD


Am Nurs Journal. 2020;15(1) 

In This Article

Suicide and Its Toll

Research indicates that nurses are at higher risk of suicide than the general population. For every nurse who dies by suicide, countless relatives, friends, patients, and colleagues are left behind to mourn his or her loss. Although the grief experienced after any death can be intense and protracted, sadness and loneliness after suicide frequently is accompanied by guilt, confusion, rejection, shame, anger, and the effects of stigma. Survivors of suicide loss are at risk of developing major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal behaviors, and prolonged grief disorder.

Historically, as nurses we have sacrificed our own needs to those of patients. We refrain from burdening others with our own distress and mental health issues. Even if we're willing to talk about our needs, we may have difficulty finding someone to listen. Stigma adds to the burden of grief after suicide, keeping survivors from seeking support and healing resources. Bereaved individuals report that they have difficulty talking to others because people are uncomfortable discussing suicide. This double-edged sword, can't talk about it and no one to listen, leaves the bereaved feeling isolated.

The inability to talk about a suicide death frequently is compounded when an organization incorrectly believes that it needs to conceal the cause of death. This conspiracy of silence hinders open discussion and prevents support for those who are grieving. Survivors of suicide loss, perhaps especially those in the healthcare professions, may require proactive supportive measures to acknowledge, discuss, and adaptively cope with their loss.