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Centre for Suicide Research | Research | Suicide in high risk occupations | Nurses


Suicide in high risk occupational groups - Female nurses


The Centre for Suicide Research was commissioned by the Department of Health to carry out a psychological autopsy study of suicide in female nurses. We had previously conducted a review of the literature.



We reviewed the worldwide English language literature on suicide in nurses. There is evidence from several countries that female nurses are at increased risk of suicide. Very little information is available about the specific causes. Increased risk in nurses has been statistically associated with smoking and negatively related to extent of caffeine consumption. Unlike some other high-risk occupational groups, it is unclear to what extent access to means for suicide contributes to nurses' risk.


Hawton, K., Vislisel, L. (1999) Suicide in nurses. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 29, 86-95.

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Psychological autopsy study

We carried out a psychological autopsy study of 106 female nurses who died by suicide in England and Wales between January 1994 and December 1997. This involved an in-depth investigation of the circumstances of the deaths, personal and family history, social circumstances, physical and mental health, personality factors, treatments received, and problems at home and work in the year before death, using interviews with relatives or friends of the deceased together with information from coroners' records, general practitioner records and psychiatric casenotes. We compared 42 nurses with informant interviews with 84 living female nurses matched for age, seniority and speciality to identify risk factors. Nearly three-quarters of the nurse suicides had previous contact with psychiatric services and almost half had been psychiatric inpatients in the past. There were particularly marked differences between the cases and controls for current psychiatric disorder (90.5% v 7.1%), personality disorder (38.1% v 1.2%) and history of deliberate self-harm (71.4% v 2.4%). The suicides were more likely than the controls to be living alone and to have moved house more frequently. They were less likely to be married, have children or to have been living in their own home. Smoking and serious alcohol abuse were much more frequent in the suicides. The most important strategies for suicide prevention in nurses are in prevention, detection and management of psychiatric disorders. In assessing suicide risk, a history of deliberate self-harm and the presence of comorbid psychiatric and personality disorders are particularly important.


Hawton, K., Simkin, S., Rue, J., Haw, C., Barbour, A., Clements, A., Sakarovitch, C., Deeks, J. (2002) Suicide in female nurses in England and Wales Psychological Medicine, 32, 239-250

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