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Royal College of Nursing warns of growing nursing mental health crisis as data shows doubling in those seeking help for suicidal thoughts

Press Release 24/11/2023

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is warning of a growing mental health crisis amongst nursing staff, as its membership support line data shows a substantial increase in the number of nursing staff seeking help for having suicidal thoughts.


There’s been a 98% increase in nursing staff telling the RCN's Advice Line during an initial call that they’re having suicidal thoughts in the first 10 months of 2023 compared to the same timeframe last year.


In the last month (October 2023) there was the equivalent of one person every working day reporting suffering from suicidal ideation during their initial call, compared to just one person a week in October 2021.  In response to these latest findings, the RCN has now commissioned research looking into the reasons why nursing staff are having suicidal thoughts and whether there’s a disproportionate impact on those from marginalised groups.


The RCN is concerned that persistent understaffing, intolerable pressures at work and financial insecurity at home may be contributing factors. Leading mental health experts have shown that nurses and other health care professionals are at higher risk of suicide due to stressful work environments exacerbated by excessive workloads, staffing shortages and poorly resourced workplaces.


Despite this increased risk, the RCN revealed in May 2023 that out of the 41 mental health hubs established across NHS England, a third of them have now closed. This includes seven specialist hubs which were launched during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has left an estimated one million health and care staff without support. Moreover, an additional seven hubs cited that they had less than a years’ funding available to remain open.


The RCN is reiterating its call on the government to urgently provide funding for dedicated mental health support for nursing staff and, more broadly, to tackle chronic nursing workforce shortages, which add unprecedented pressure on staff. There are currently more than 40,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS in England alone, with a record number of patients on an NHS waiting list.


RCN Interim Head of Nursing Practice Stephen Jones said: 


“The rise in nursing staff having suicidal thoughts should be a frightening wake-up call. Nursing staff contribute so much to our society, but working in an inherently stressful job can come at an enormous personal cost. Yet we see support services cut when we should be seeing greater investment in looking after those who care for us.


“The increasing burden on nursing staff, as they try to help clear the excessive backlog in care, has created intolerable working conditions on every shift. Coupled with nursing pay not keeping up with the cost-of-living, we’re alarmed by this growing mental health crisis among nursing staff.


“The UK government must understand that cuts to mental health support for nursing staff can’t continue – when you invest in the health of nursing staff you also invest in the health of patients.”




Notes to Editors 


According to the RCN’s own counselling services data, with two months left of 2023 to report, the number of members self-declaring that they are having suicidal thoughts has increased from 113 cases in the whole of 2022 to 176 cases in just the first 10 months of 2023, a 56% increase. In comparison to the first 10 months in 2022, where 89 cases were reported, there has been a 98% increase. 


The RCN has previously called upon the government to implement an integrated suicide prevention strategy for the nursing workforce across the UK. Since then, the RCN has supported the work of NHS England to produce a national suicide prevention toolkit for England which was launched in September. The core aims of the toolkit are: 

  • to provide an organisation level toolkit to raise awareness of poor mental health and suicidality among health care staff across all health care settings
  • provide information enabling all staff to be able to signpost health care colleagues to mental health and wellbeing
  • provide examples of good organisational practice in preventing suicide in staff working in health care
  • provide recommendations to support organisations’ suicide prevention strategies.

Press Office Contacts

Tom Colclough, Head of Media
07891 109 146

Nick Spears, Senior Media Officer
020 7647 3696

Michael Finlayson, Media Officer
020 7647 3459

Out of hours duty press officer
020 7647 3633