Several workplace risk factors, including safety concerns going unaddressed, predicted suicidal thoughts.
Approximately 1 in 10 National Health Service (NHS) workers experienced suicidal thoughts during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new study findings published in PLOS ONE.
Experts have raised concerns about the risk of suicide among health care workers during the pandemic. In the study, investigators from the University of Bristol, King’s College London, and University College London aimed to investigate the prevalence and incidence of suicidal thoughts and behavior among NHS workers in England and their relationship with occupational risk factors.
“These findings highlight the scale of mental health issues across the NHS at a time of unprecedented concern,” said Prianka Padmanathan, MD, one of the study’s lead authors, in a press release. “Improvements in mental health support and addressing structural issues around workforce and resources might significantly reduce suicidal thoughts and behavior among health care workers.”
Researchers analyzed responses from the NHS CHECK longitudinal online surveys completed by both clinical and non-clinical health care workers, students, and volunteers in 18 NHS Trusts across England during the COVID-19 pandemic. Responses from 12,514 participants were completed at baseline, and responses from 7160 participants were completed at 6 months follow up between April 2020 and August 2021.
The findings showed that exposure to events that went against workers’ moral values, a lack of confidence about raising safety concerns, those concerns going unaddressed, lack of support from managers, and having to provide a reduced standard of care all contributed to staff distress during the pandemic. At the second 6-month time point, the study found that a lack of confidence about safety concerns being addressed independently predicted suicidal thoughts among clinicians.
“Our findings show that several modifiable workplace risk factors, such as exposure to events that may have gone against a health worker’s moral code, providing a reduced standard of care, or feeling unsupported by managers all increased the likelihood of suicidal thoughts being reported by health care workers,” said Paul Moran, MD, MBBS, MSc, one of the study’s lead authors, in the press release.
The study authors also said the findings highlight the importance of colleague relationships and support, in addition to mental health resources and care.
“Let’s not forget that having a job is usually better for our mental health than not having a job, but sometimes the nature of the job can increase stress and strain on the individual,” said Sir Simon Wessely, FMedSci, FRS, NHS CHECK chief investigator and professor of psychiatry at King’s College London, in the press release. “In these cases, this work reminds us that the best source of support to maintain your health and wellbeing are not mental health professionals or the people in charge of your organization. It’s the person next above you—your immediate supervisor, manager, or report, and the people around you—your friends, family, and colleagues.”
One in ten NHS healthcare workers experienced suicidal thoughts during pandemic, study finds. News release. EurekAlert. June 21, 2023. Accessed June 22, 2023. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/993078