Remembering Jacintha Saldanha: Suicide in the Helping Professions

“In the United States, suicide accounts for about 2 percent of all deaths. Rates are highest for men over 69, but are increasing alarmingly in young people aged 15 to 24.” – American Psychological Association,, retrieved 12/14/12.

Jacintha Saldanha committed suicide by hanging last week.  She was a nurse at the King Edward VII’s Hospital in London, caring for HRH The Duchess of Cambridge while she was hospitalized there.view here

A couple of radio DJ’s from New Zealand placed a prank call to the hospital unit, pretending to be the Queen of Britain and Prince Charles of Wales (the Duchess’ father-in-law).  The nurses, including Jacintha, believed them and breached the Duchess’ privacy, talking about her health and condition.

No one is sure if this led directly to Jacintha’s death, and while she did leave suicide notes they have not been released to the media.

As a nurse and a survivor of family suicide (my uncle Kevin killed himself when I was sixteen), this touched a nerve with me. 

We nurses are drilled repeatedly about patient privacy and security.  We fear breaking HIPAA (in the U.S., the Health Information Privacy and Accessibility Act), because the consequences are dire (losing your license, criminal prosecution).  The British nurse who works with me says the laws are even stricter in Britain.  And yet, breaches like this happen.

Why?  Imagine that you’re working a 12 hour shift, the majority of which you are standing or walking.  Families are begging you on the phone for information, any information on their loved ones.  And let’s say that the loved on in question is royalty!  Holy hand grenades, imagine that kind of pressure! 

I’ve had to refuse to give out info many times before, and people are always pissed.  Even if you explain HIPAA to them, even if they give you personal info about the patient over the phone, you still have to follow the rules and I’ve been yelled at plenty of times about how I’m Keeping Information From Them and I’m Probably Hiding Something.

I don’t know what else Jacintha was dealing with in her life.  God only knows, I don’t think it was just this that drove her to kill herself.  She seemed to have a loving family and was well-respected in her position.  But believe me, love and respect do not guarantee happiness.  My uncle Kevin was charming, funny and an artist who was loyal and kind.  He gave me my first easel because I loved to draw as a child.  And then, in an instant, he was gone.  Depression and drug addiction is a real and present horror.

So I send out my love to Jacintha, her family and the rest of the nurses out there who struggle with whatever in their private lives that may drive them to consider suicide.  I beg you to get help.  Life really is worth living, no matter how you fucked up in your professional life.


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