The rate of suicide among health care professionals is higher than for the general population. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the stressors negatively affecting health professionals. A survey of workers employed by state, tribal, local, and territorial health departments during March 29–April 16, 2021 revealed that 53 percent of respondents reported symptoms of at least one adverse mental health condition in the preceding two weeks. The most prevalent conditions were depression (32 percent), anxiety (30 percent), post-traumatic stress disorder (37 percent), and suicidal ideation (8 percent). Most respondents worked directly on COVID-19 response activities. (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or background—and often indicate more serious issues that need further assessment and proper interventions from licensed mental health professionals. Our goal is to ensure that individuals affected by suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and their families and friends, have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and seek help.
We want any person experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors to have a number to call, a system to turn to, that would connect them to the treatment and support they need.
- Suicide Facts
Health Care Worker Impact
Physicians, nurses, and other health care workers have historically been at disproportionate risk of suicide, due to a variety of factors, including:
- Difficult working conditions, such as long work hours, rotating and irregular shifts,
- Emotionally challenging situations with patients and patient’s family members,
- Risk for exposure to infectious diseases and other hazards on the job, including workplace violence,
- Routine exposure to human suffering and death, and access to lethal means such as medications and knowledge about using them.
- 78 percent of all people who die by suicide are male;
- Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4 times more likely to die by suicide;
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10–34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.;
- The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35 percent since 1999;
- 46 percent of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition;
- While nearly half of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition, research shows that 90 percent experienced symptoms.
Annual prevalence of serious thoughts of suicide, by U.S. demographic group:
- 4.8 percent of all adults;
- 11.8 percent of young adults aged 18-25;
- 18.8 percent of high school students
- 46.8 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students;
- Some of the highest rates of suicide in the U.S. are among American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic white communities;
- Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth;
- Transgender adults are nearly 12 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population;
- Suicide is the leading cause of death for people held in local jails.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and other select sources.
- Warning Signs of Suicide
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2019, 12 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million made a plan, 1.4 million attempted suicide, more than 47,500 died from suicide. Almost everyone who has committed suicide have given some signs or warnings, even though some of these signs might be subtle.
How they feel and talk—signs include:
- Feeling sad, angry, ashamed, rejected, desperate, lonely, irritable, overly happy or exhausted;
- Feeling trapped and helpless: “I can’t see any way out of this”;
- Feeling worthless or hopeless: “I'm on my own—no one cares. No one would even notice I was gone”;
- Feeling guilty: “It’s my fault, I’m to blame.”
How they behave—signs include:
- Abusing drugs or alcohol, or using more than they usually do;
- Withdrawing from friends, family and society;
- Appearing anxious and agitated;
- Having trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time;
- Having sudden mood swings—a sudden lift in mood after a period of depression could indicate they have made the decision to attempt suicide;
- Having episodes of sudden rage and anger;
- Acting recklessly and engaging in risky activities;
- Losing interest in their appearance, such as dressing badly, no longer wearing make-up or not washing regularly;
- Rapid weight changes;
- Putting their affairs in order;
- Making funeral arrangements.
High risk warning signs
- Threatening to hurt or kill themselves;
- Possessing or having ways to kill themselves, such as stockpiling tablets or buying equipment that could be used to harm themselves;
- Talking, drawing or writing about death, dying or suicide.
- Being Prepared for a Crisis
When a suicide-related crisis occurs we often feel caught off-guard, unprepared and unsure of what to do. If you believe someone may be thinking about suicide:
- Call 911, if danger for self-harm seems imminent;
- Ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves. (This will not put the idea into their head or make it more likely that they will attempt suicide.);
- Listen without judging and show you care;
- Stay with the person (or make sure the person is in a private, secure place with another caring person) until you can get further help;
- Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt;
- Express support and concern;
- Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice;
- Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong;
- If you’re nervous, try not to fidget or pace;
- Be patient.
Like any other health emergency, it’s important to address a mental health crisis like suicide quickly and effectively. If you need help or know someone who does, and this is an emergency, please call 911 immediately.
- GW Colonial Health Center: (202) 994-5300 (24/7)
- GW Life-threatening Emergencies on Campus Line: (202) 994-6111
- Physician Support Line: 1 (888) 409-0141
- National Suicide Hotline: 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255)
- CrisisLink: 1 (800) SUICIDE (784-2433) (24 hours) or (703) 527-4077
- DC Department of Behavioral Health Access HelpLine: 1 (888) 7WE-HELP (888-793-4357)
- Lifeline Chat, a service of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, connecting individuals with counselors for emotional support and other services via web chat.
- Awareness Resources
It is important to address suicide prevention, coming together with collective passion and strength around a difficult topic. We can all benefit from honest conversations about mental health conditions and suicide, because just one conversation can change a life.
Here are more resources:
- World Health Organization: World Mental Health Day
- CDC: Suicide Prevention
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Suicide Prevention
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s #BeThe1To campaign
We encourage you to utilize staff of GW Resiliency and Well-being Center to facilitate those discussions with your department or student group. You can reach us at email@example.com or 202-994-7462.