During the COVID-19 pandemic, concern has been raised about suicide risk among healthcare workers (HCWs). We investigated the incidence risk and prevalence of suicidal thoughts and behaviour (STB), and their relationship with occupational risk factors, among National Health Service HCWs in England between April 2020 and August 2021.
In this longitudinal study, we analysed online survey data completed by 22,501 HCWs from 17 NHS Trusts at baseline (Time 1) and six months (Time 2). The primary outcome measures were suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and non-suicidal self-injury. We used logistic regression to investigate the relationship between these outcomes and demographic characteristics and occupational factors. Results were stratified by occupational role (clinical/non-clinical).
Time 1 and Time 2 surveys were completed by 12,514 and 7,160 HCWs, respectively. At baseline, 10.8% (95% CI = 10.1%, 11.6%) of participants reported having experienced suicidal thoughts in the previous two months, whilst 2.1% (95% CI = 1.8%, 2.5%) of participants reported having attempted suicide over the same period. Among HCWs who had not experienced suicidal thoughts at baseline (and who completed the Time 2 survey), 11.3% (95%CI = 10.4%, 12.3%) reported such thoughts six months later. Six months after baseline, 3.9% (95% CI = 3.4%, 4.4%) of HCWs reported attempting suicide for the first time. Exposure to potentially morally injurious events, lack of confidence about raising safety concerns and these concerns being addressed, feeling unsupported by managers, and providing a reduced standard of care were all associated with increased suicidal ideation among HCWs during the COVID-19 pandemic. At six months, among clinicians, a lack of confidence about safety concerns being addressed, independently predicted suicidal ideation.
Suicidal thoughts and behaviour among healthcare workers could be reduced by improving managerial support and enhancing the ability of staff to raise safety concerns.