- A California nurse walked off the job and was found dead two days later, local outlets reported.
- The cause of Michael Odell’s death has yet to be confirmed but authorities don’t suspect foul play.
- Nurses told Insider that Odell’s death highlights their need for better mental health resources.
Last Tuesday, neurological nurse Michael Odell walked out of the intensive care unit at Stanford Hospital near the San Francisco Bay Area in the middle of his shift, around 4:30 a.m.
His roommate, Joshua Christopher Paredes, said Odell told his supervisor he was leaving because he forgot something in his car. He never returned for the remainder of his shift. When the 27-year-old nurse didn’t arrive at home, Paredes reported him missing, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
A Facebook group called “Find Michael Odell” was created to help search for him. The group, which is now private, had nearly 4,000 members.
Odell’s body was found two days later on the banks of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge near the Dumbarton Bridge, in Fremont, California, the Stanford Daily reported.
The cause of death is unclear, but Odell’s case has made nurses speak about mental health in their profession. For some, the case highlights a lack of adequate mental health resources for healthcare professionals, especially after two years of working through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sarah Warren, a nurse in Florida, told Insider she and other nurses are frustrated “that no one is paying attention to nurses who are struggling.”
“When he went missing my first thought is he probably killed himself because I know it strikes the chord in so many of us, because so many of us feel so powerless and I’ve had comments, I’ve seen other nurses who’ve spoken about wanting to go that route. And so I feel like so many of us resonate with it because so many of us have thought about it,” Warren said. “That’s hard to say, but it’s the reality.”
Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office told the Daily that Odell’s car was parked near where his body was found and footprints believed to be Odell’s led into the water. Kelly said police don’t believe there was any foul play involved in Odell’s death.
Paredes, Odell’s roommate, and another nurse told KRON4 that his death points towards a need to have conversations around how overwhelmed nurses are by the stress of the job.
Nurses say they need more than “Zoom yoga and self-care tips”
Warren, who has worked as a nurse since the fall of 2018, told Insider she experienced “moral injury” – or what others might call burnout in her first year – but the pandemic has only exacerbated that experience.
“So my first year I was already tired of my role because of external forces, things outside of my control,” she said.
Despite loving her role, the unit Warren was on, like many hospitals across the country, was experiencing severe staffing shortages even before the pandemic, which have only become worse over the last two years.
“It caused me to feel like I was showing up every day and still not being able to give enough to these patients and give the care that I want to give to them because there are not enough resources,” she said.
Even before the pandemic, several studies showed that nurses may be at a higher risk for suicidal ideation than the general population and those with suicidal ideation may be less likely to seek out help.
Warren said as the waves of COVID-19 surges happened, she struggled with constantly seeing death in the hospital, despite trying her best to take care of patients.
“In 2020 I experienced anxiety,
, and was diagnosed with PTSD. I also don’t remember a lot of 2020, which is strange, but it’s part of how my mental health was impacted,” Warren said.
At the end of 2020, she started therapy, but when the Delta variant caused an uptick in hospitalizations in the summer of 2021, Warren said therapy wasn’t enough and she began taking anti-depressants, which brought some temporary relief, but she began to have negative side effects, including suicidal ideation, so she tapered off.
“I just couldn’t handle it anymore and after the Delta surge, I told myself if this happens again, if we have staffing shortages that are this bad, if we have a surge like this again, I don’t know if I can do it,” Warren said.
As the Omicron variant swept through the country this December, an injury kept her out of work. Warren described it as “divine intervention” because she’s unsure if she could have handled working through another surge.
Warren told Insider that hospital systems need to prioritize nurses and provide adequate staffing as well as mental health resources. She’s frustrated that help so far has consisted of “zoom yoga and self-care tips,” something she said is not proportional to the trauma nurses are experiencing.
“It’s not enough. They need to invest in us. They need to invest in our emotional well-being. And for a lot of us, it’s too late. The damage is already done,” she said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.