Navigating the Loss and Grief of a Nurse Suicide

Matthew S. Howard, DNP, RN, CEN, TCRN, CPEN, CPN; Michelle Buck, MSN, APRN; Holly Carpenter, BSN, RN; Kendra McMillan, MPH, RN


Am Nurs Journal. 2021;16(3) 

In This Article

Helping Staff Heal

When a nurse dies by suicide, employers should provide a well-coordinated response with clear goals and full organizational support. "Postvention" is defined by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention's Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force as an "organized response in the aftermath of a suicide to accomplish any one or more of the following: to facilitate the healing of individuals from the grief and distress of suicide loss, to mitigate other negative effects of exposure to suicide, and to prevent suicide among people who are at high risk after exposure to suicide."

The suicide of a coworker may trigger suicidal thoughts in vulnerable nurses who are at risk of attempting suicide themselves. This is known as the contagion effect. (Learn more at

Employers can take many steps to achieve postvention goals. The process begins with compassionate acknowledgment of the loss, including any information the family agrees to share. (To maintain privacy and confidentiality, the cause of death shouldn't be revealed without family approval.) Nurses should not hear the news through the grapevine.

All staff can benefit from sharing their feelings and having access to peer support. Employers should offer immediate and ongoing support, including mental health resources and crisis assessment. This vigilance includes nurses checking on one another. Consider an all-hands-on-deck approach with human resources, employee wellness, safety teams, employee assistance programs, and pastoral care.

Employers should provide necessary backup staffing so coworkers can attend funeral services as well as other opportunities for time off. Filling the vacant position of the nurse who has died should be a priority to reduce increased stress related to short staffing, which may compound the effects of the loss. Employers may want to offer continuing education on suicide prevention, mental health, nurse joy, and well-being.