Nurses, Depression, and Suicide

Every nurse gets down about their job now and again, and it is only to be expected in such a high stress job.

Unfortunately, though, some nurses find that they are suffering from a never-ending spiral of negative thinking and problem emotions.

For these nurses, clinical depression is probably the correct diagnosis, but not many nurses would be willing to admit that was what they were feeling.

There is still a stigma against depression and mental illness, especially in people who feel like they have to do it all.

Unfortunately, depression and suicide make up much of the landscape of the health problems facing medical professionals.

It is only by bringing this topic into the open that we can help nurses who are suffering and avoid the pressures that will lead to more nurses becoming depressed.

Why Nurses Get Depressed

While it is true that some nurses are predisposed to depression, it is not uncommon to find more working nurses depressed than people in the general population.  Several reasons for this are likely obvious to anyone who has set foot on a nursing floor.

First, nurses are constantly asked to do a great deal of work.  From juggling multiple patients to ensuring that everyone is performing their jobs correctly, nurses have a ton of responsibility on their shoulders.

Second, we see people who are at their worst, and often they are not as kind to us as they should be.  Dealing with someone who essentially thinks you are incompetent can make even the strongest nurse question their skills.

Finally, we lose patients.  That’s just a fact, and sometimes we can take on the blame in ourselves for not saving the patient.  All of these factors can combine to make depression more common for us than for your average worker.

Signs of Depression

Depression can show in a number of ways.  We all learned in nursing school that a down mood for more than two weeks, talking about suicide, and an inability to feel joy are clinical signs, but sometimes depression is trickier than that.

“They may deny it, but some nurses may actually be relieved that someone noticed and offered a hand to help.”

Nurses love to drink, and a nurse who imbibes a lot on their off time may be trying to hide depression and anxiety.  Similarly, some nurses turn to diverting medications or other drugs to self-medicate the feelings that they cannot cope with.

No one likes a nurse who calls in constantly, but this could be another sign of a depressed nurse.  They just don’t want to be there to face the responsibilities, and this could be more a sign of mental illness than unwillingness to be a team player.

You may also notice mood swings in your coworker or yourself if you suffer from depression.  No matter the situation, it is difficult to feel happy and at ease with your job when depression is making you want to run for the hills.  Primary dissatisfaction with the job can be a sign of depression.

Ultimate Sacrifice: Suicide

Many nurses die every year, but how many of them die from suicide?  Of course, the news is full of nurses who have died of overdoses from diverted medication, but are these deaths really accidental?

Maybe the nurse was depressed, using drugs, and the lethal combination, though an accident, could still be considered suicide.  Many nurses who use prescription drugs to combat their feelings are the very ones who are suffering from depression.

Although it is a well-known fact that physicians are at higher risk for suicide, it only makes sense that nurses are at risk, as well.  We do a great deal of the same work that doctors do, and we are at the bedside more often, putting us on the front lines.

The tragedy of nurse suicide, however, can be avoided by recognizing the signs early and getting the nurse help.  If you or someone you know seems down all the time about their job, it may help to talk to them about depression and if they need help.

They may deny it, but some nurses may actually be relieved that someone noticed and offered a hand to help.  Not only do we have to take care of our patients, but we also have to take care of each other.


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