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Female nurses at higher risk of suicide

AAP logoAAP 18/09/2016

The rate of suicide among Australian women is double for those working as health professionals, with nurses and midwives most at risk, a study has found.

A University of Melbourne and Deakin study of close to 10,000 suicides by employed adults between 2001 and 2012 found 3.8 per cent of them were health professionals.

Long working hours, exposure to trauma and the fear of making a mistake may increase rates of suicide in those working in health professions, the study says.

Dr Allison Milner found the age-standardised rate of suicide for female health professionals was 6.4 per 100,000 person-years, while nurses and midwives were even higher at 8.2.

The average suicide rate for women in other professions was 2.8.

While men working in nursing and midwifery also had a higher rate of suicide, the overall rate for male health professionals was similar to other occupations, according to the study.

Men's risk of suicide was overall higher than women's, at 14.9 per 100 000.

"Qualitative research has found that some male nurses experience anxiety about the perceived stigma associated with their non-traditional career choice," the authors wrote.

"These anxieties may constitute a risk factor for suicide for men in these occupations."

The authors said that women in male-dominated areas of medicine may struggle, feeling there are barriers holding them back from career advancement.

"Female professionals may still feel pressure to undertake child care and household roles, leading to considerable gender role stress," the report said.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

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