Nurses, midwives, medical practitioners, suicide and stigma

Paul McNamara
Content warning: this blog contains information about suicide which may be unsettling for some people. If you choose to read and would like help processing your feelings, please call Nurse & Midwife Support on 1800 667 877.

This blog was originally written by Paul McNamara in 2016 and was published on his blog He has kindly given us permission to repost it. Paul is a Clinical Nurse Consultant at the Consultation Liaison Psychiatry Service, Cairns Hospital.
Alarming data

suicide stigma data table

A retrospective study into suicide in Australia from 2001 to 2012 uncovered these alarming four findings:

  • Female Medical Professionals: 128% more likely to suicide than females in other occupations (6.4 per 100,000 vs 2.8 per 100.000)
  • Female Nurses & Midwives: 192% more likely to suicide than females in other occupations (8.2 per 100,000 vs 2.8 per 100.000)
  • Male Nurses & Midwives: 52% more likely to suicide than males in other occupations (22.7 per 100,000 vs 14.9 per 100.000)
  • Male Nurses & Midwives: 196% more likely to suicide than their female colleagues (22.7 per 100,000 vs 8.2 per 100.000)

Data source: Milner, A.J., Maheen, H., Bismark, M.M., & Spittal, M.J. (2016) Suicide by health professionals: a retrospective mortality study in Australia, 2001–2012. Medical Journal of Australia 205 (6): 260-265

Suicide is a complex matter that does not lend itself to easy understanding or simple solutions. However, something we know about health professionals is that they know that there are mental health services and supports. Health professionals know that these services can be accessed by people who who are feeling suicidal. The data suggests that health professionals have an actual or perceived barrier to accessing these existing supports. I wonder what that barrier is.


Could it be that nurses, midwives and medical professionals suicide at a greater rate than the other occupations because of actual or perceived stigma? We have the peculiar privilege of providing care for strangers who are/have been suicidal, but perhaps we aren’t so good at extending that nurturing care to ourselves and each other.

I have a suggestion for health professionals. If you ever come across a colleague who says something derogatory or stigmatising about a person experiencing mental health problems or suicidality, politely show them the data,. Save the chart above to your phone and show them that suicide is a bigger problem for nurses, midwives and female medical professionals than it is for people in other occupations. Say something like, “Suicide is an important issue for our colleagues too. Let’s both care for this patient like we would like to be cared for.”

You’re very welcome to share the chart above or this blog post with your colleagues – the short URL is

There’s also a PDF version of the chart here: stigma

Hopefully, sometime down the track, the data will result in targeted support for the prevention of suicide by health professionals. However, we need not wait for our political masters, health bureaucracies and professional organisations before we walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk of fighting stigma.

If we see mental health/suicide stigma we should address it on the spot.

In the words of Lieutenant General David Morrison, “The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.” As the data shows, it is dangerous for nurses, midwives, medical professionals and other health professionals to accept stigma.

Alarming data:

Female Nurses & Midwives are 192% more likely to suicide than females in other occupations.

Male Nurses & Midwives are 196% more likely to suicide than their female colleagues.


It’s important to acknowledge that talking and thinking about suicide can be distressing. People in Australia can access support via:

  • Nurse & Midwife Support: 1800 667 877
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14

Outside of Australia and not sure where to get support? Google will automatically display your country’s suicide support phone number when searching for a suicide-related topic.

search google for suicide help

If this blog brought up difficult feelings for you and you want to talk, we’re here: call Nurse and Midwife Support 24/7 on 1800 667 877 or email us.