Among six categories studied, only physicians had lower rates than general population
Most of the attention around the stress of health care work has focused on physicians. But a new study finds that non-physician health care workers face a higher risk of suicide than both doctors and the general population.
The study’s authors examined data on a nationally representative cohort of 1.84 million adults 26 and older from the 2008 American Community Survey linked to National Death Index records through the end of 2019.
The survey included 216,000 health care workers in six categories including registered nurses, health technicians, social/behavioral health workers, health care support workers (such as nursing, psychiatric and home health aides), other health care-diagnosing or treating practitioners, such as chiropractors, dentists, and dieticians, and physicians. Participant sociodemographic characteristics included age, gender, race and ethnicity, marital status, education, income, and residence location.
The data showed that after controlling for potentially confounding sociodemographic characteristics, health care workers had 14.1 suicides per 100,000 years observed, compared to 12.6 suicides for non-health care workers.
Among categories of health care workers those employed in health care support roles had the highest suicide rate at 21.4 per 100,000 years observed. That was followed by registered nurses (16.0), health care technicians (15.6), other health care-diagnosing/treating practitioners (10.1), and physicians (7.6).
The study also highlighted differences in the sociodemographic composition of the various occupations. For example, women accounted for more than 60% of all categories except physicians, where they were 32%. Similarly, Black non-Hispanic men were 27% of health care support workers and 20% of social/behavioral health workers, but 5.3% of physicians.
The authors note that the higher risk of suicide in light of the growth of the health care workforce, which increased from 3.8 million in 2008 to 6.6. million in 2021. Addressing the challenge, they say, will require identifying and ameliorating work-related factors contributing to mental health occupational risks, particularly among registered nurses, health technicians, and health care support workers.
The study, “Suicide Risks of Health Care Workers in the US,” appears in the September 26, 2023 issue of JAMA.