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Tristin Kate Smith, a 28-year-old nurse from Ohio, wrote a devastating letter to her “abuser” five months before her suicide in August 2023.
The letter has since spread among nurses across the country – many of whom share Smith’s disillusionment with the U.S. health care system.
“I desperately want to continue helping people, but I cannot stay in this abusive relationship,” wrote Smith, who worked as an emergency room nurse in Dayton, Ohio.
Her father, Ron Smith, discovered the letter, titled “A Letter to My Abuser,” on the nurse’s laptop two months after her death.
In October, it was published as a letter to the editor in The Oakwood Register, a local newspaper in Ohio, to raise awareness that some nurses feel the system they serve is failing them.
Smith, the youngest of six children in her family, struggled with depression but reportedly never sought professional help.
“Health care professionals may avoid talking about their mental health issues because they fear jeopardizing their license and negatively impacting their ability to continue working in their current roles,” says Dr. Lama Bazzi, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City, told Fox News Digital in comments about the case and its broader implications.
“It is vital to the survival of the healthcare system that workers feel safe asking for help – and that help is quickly available to meet their needs before their mental health problems reach the level of suicide risk,” added them added.
“We cannot continue to expect healthcare workers to suffer in silence as they face a tragic but preventable cause of death.”
“Looking back full of regret”
In his own letter in The Oakwood Register, Smith’s father wrote that he is now “full of hindsight with regret” for not seeing the signs that his daughter was unwell.
She showered her “beloved” dog Calypso with “more canine enrichment toys and equipment than a single pet store sells,” her father wrote.
Smith also had affirmations and mantras posted throughout her home.
“She tried so hard to stay alive, but none of it was enough to stop the darkness,” her father said in the letter.
Bottlenecks and security concerns
“We – nurses and doctors – entered our profession with the noblest of ambitions: to help others who are unwell,” said Dr. Mikkael Sekeres, wellness expert and head of the division of hematology at the Sylvester Cancer Center at the University of Miami Fox News Digital.
“It’s difficult when you’re hurting more than your patients,” he continued. “When that happens, people stop taking the medication or worse.”
In her letter, Smith explained that she feels overwhelmed due to the shortage of nurses.
“Every day you ask me to do more with less,” she wrote.
In a statement to Fox News Digital, the Maryland-based American Nurses Association (ANA) said the “negative emotions, mental health issues and burnout” faced by nurses are “symptomatic of a broken health care system that far too often failed.” To provide ongoing support to caregivers and address chronic work environment challenges.”
Recently, more than 75,000 unionized Kaiser Permanente employees in six states – many of them frontline workers – staged the largest health care worker strike in U.S. history over concerns about staffing shortages.
“National data on the state of mental health and well-being of nurses suggests that they are experiencing mental distress or toxic emotions and are battling stigma as healthcare professionals seeking help,” the ANA added.
Smith’s letter also noted that many nurses felt hospital administrators were taking advantage of them.
“You are a narcissist,” she wrote. “You use and exploit us to line your pockets by using the common man’s money for overpriced healthcare.”
She called for greater workplace safety and said nurses should not be held responsible for workplace assaults.
“I remember the first time I heard about nurses being beaten,” she wrote.
“I remember you asking them what they did – or didn’t do – to prevent this.”
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the number of healthcare professionals experiencing workplace harassment, such as threats, bullying, or verbal abuse from patients and colleagues, doubled between 2018 and 2022, which leads to more anxiety. Depression and burnout.
“Studies show that healthcare workers are at higher risk of suicide than workers in other fields,” Bazzi told Fox News Digital.
“Women are particularly at risk – differences in workload stress, burnout and difficulties balancing work and home life may play a role.”
According to a 2021 report that included data from the CDC and the National Violent Death Reporting System, between 2007 and 2018, nurses were 18% more likely to die by suicide than the general population.
Nurses were 70% more likely to die by suicide than doctors and were twice as likely to die by suicide compared to the general population.
“I would argue that most healthcare workers feel like the system is broken,” Sekeres told Fox News Digital.
“Some still have the energy to take it on and create solutions to their patients’ problems by innovatively finding solutions to systemic problems, while others have given up and feel helpless to be advocates for their patients,” he added.
“It is this learned helplessness that I think contributes most to health care burnout.”
The ANA calls for action.
“It’s time to listen to and prioritize caregivers,” the organization said.
“Without this action we will lose even more smart lives like nurse Tristin Kate Smith and many others.”
Fox News Digital has reached out to Smith’s family for comment.