April 14 (UPI) -- Female nurses were about twice as likely to die by suicide as women in the U.S. general population, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published Wednesday by JAMA Psychiatry.
Compared to people in the general population, nurses were 18% more likely to die by suicide, regardless of gender, during the 12-year period between 2007 and 2018, the data showed.
Suicide rates for physicians of both genders were similar to those of the general population over the study period, the researchers said.
"We believe that nurses are under high job demands [due to] long-shifts [and] stressful environments because they provide the majority of bedside care, and have less autonomy," study co-author Matthew A. Davis told UPI in an email.
Among nurses, there is a tendency toward "avoidance of healthcare services due to stigma and greater access to the means to complete suicide via medications," said Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing in Ann Arbor.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Up to 50,000 people nationally die by suicide each year, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates.
Although healthcare workers are believed to be at higher risk for suicide than the general population because of on-the-job stress, that trend is expected to be amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, given that many health facilities have reported being overwhelmed treating infected patients, Davis said.
For this study, researchers analyzed national data on suicides for the general public, and among doctors and nurses, between 2007 and 2018.
They focused on nearly 2,400 deaths by suicide reported among nurses, just under 900 among physicians and just over 156,000 such deaths reported in the general population during that period.
About 80% of the suicides among nurses were women, while 84% of those among physicians were men, the data showed.
Conversely, in the general population, 78% of suicides involved men.
Based on these figures, compared to women in the general population, female nurses had 99% greater risk for dying by suicide.
They also have a 70% greater risk for death by suicide than physicians, the data showed.
Methods of suicide also differed, with 25% percent of female nurses using poisoning -- including prescription or illicit drugs -- compared to 17% of women in the general population, the researchers said.
"We're concerned about the effect of the pandemic on suicide risk among nurses," Davis said.
"The pandemic has placed enormous stress on healthcare workers [and] we will be looking at this as new data emerge," he said.