Health Professionals and Mental Health, Stress, and Suicide Prevention

Choosing to take the leap and engage in a career as a health professional is definitely not for the faint of heart. Think you have seen it all?  Step into the shoes of a counselor, therapist, nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, social worker, physicians or any of the many health professionals for one of their shifts, and no doubt, within an hour or two reality will come crashing. Not only will you realize what they deal with, but you will also see how important your health – both mentally and physically – is and why moments in life should never be taken for granted.

Healthcare providers experience several situations that most never will in a lifetime. This line of work requires someone with a strong sense of their own mental health and well-being, as well as exceptional ways of coping with these experiences.  In order to take the best care of individuals at their most vulnerable of moments, it is of great importance that healthcare professionals are in their best state of health at all times to allow for exceptional care.
Mental health is extremely important in the healthcare world because not all experiences have rainbows and butterflies at the end, rather they could end in the death of someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, grandparent, best friend, etc.  With that said, healthcare professionals should be prepared at all times for the unexpected, whether it is a tragic situation, a heartbreaking story, or the happiest day of someone’s life.
At the end of each day though, how are these practitioners supposed to cope with what they have been a part of?
Each healthcare professional will develop their own ways to cope throughout their career, and it is ultimately up to them as to how they will continue to cope with the experiences of the day, weeks, months, and years.  Is it possible to just clock out and leave work at work, go home and get ready for another day? Do they find themselves heading to the local bar with friends to talk through what went on? Do they go home and respectfully share the experiences with their family to get the emotions off their minds and chest?  Or, does all the pent up stress and emotions from the whirlwind of experiences drive them to have a mental breakdown or take their own life?
Most would agree that mental health in healthcare professionals is probably not taken as seriously as it should be.  Also, most would agree that suicide takes a huge toll on those left behind and is something that no one should ever have to go through.  You probably think that since these professionals deal with mental health issues a great deal that they would have a strong enough mental health background and would never dream of doing such things to themselves because they have seen the consequences.  Mental stress and suicide rates are high among health professions and it is no wonder why– these providers take extreme responsibility and accountability for the lives of each individual they care for. Also, the high stress and demanding environment they’re a part of also has a great tendency to leave feelings of exhaustion, both physically and emotionally – sometimes to the point of breaking.
Suicide is a significant problem among the public health sector, as it is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.  With that said, suicide takes the lives of one million people per year around the world, and unfortunately, this rate continues to rise.  Health professionals are definitely not left out of these statistics either, in fact in the years of 2015 to 2016 the suicide rate for physicians was approximately 300 to 400 cases per year. 
Nurses make up a huge part of the workforce, with approximately 3.4 million who practice and the suicide rates for nurses has been a hidden phenomenon throughout the years. It is something that has not been measured adequately within the United States.

Taking one’s own life is, unfortunately, a decision that is made by some and it does not discriminate.  It is important for professionals in health care settings to develop ways to cope early on in their career. Always have someone to talk to about the stresses building up, and it is important that one has a chance to debrief after a tragic situation that may otherwise lead to compromising their mental health. Seeking professional help from another healthcare provider may be the best option for most and one should never feel embarrassed by negative stigma. The more support individuals have during these difficult times, the better their outcome will be.