Trigger warning: the following article discusses suicide and suicidal thoughts.
A nurse who died by suicide is making headlines for the letter she penned to her “abuser” — which she named as the healthcare system — months before her death.
Tristin Kate Smith died at her home of suicide on August 7, 2023. Smith worked as an ER nurse in Dayton, Ohio. She was only 28 years old at the time of her death.
While a young life lost was tragic enough, Smith’s family also decided to share a private letter she had penned months before her death that they said showed how the healthcare system had “broke” their little girl.
According to a letter to the editor that Smith’s father, Ron Smith, wrote in The Oakwood Register in October 2023, Smith’s family found the letter that she had typed up on her laptop after her death. The letter had been written in March 2023. Smith passed away five months later.
Smith’s father shared the letter with The Oakwood Register with a statement that read:
“You’re reading this now because Tristin’s story needs to be told. We need to take action. Our nation’s healthcare system is broken, and it broke our girl. Her passion for nursing has turned into a nightmare. Tristin was in trouble. Nurses are in trouble. Female nurses commit suicide at more than twice the rate of females in the general population.”
A 2021 report concluded that not only are all nurses “are at an alarmingly high risk for serious mental health threats and deaths by suicide,” but that female nurses die from suicide at statistically significantly higher rates than male nurses.
And despite doing all of the “right” things, Smith’s family said their daughter had ultimately lost her battle.
“She tried so hard to stay alive, but none of it was enough to stop the darkness,” Smith’s father described.
In her letter, Smith called her “abusive partner” “relentless” and detailed how “each day” she was asked to “do more with less.”
“You made me feel comfortable, despite the rumors of your abusive past, rumors I didn’t want to believe,” she wrote. But soon, Smith continued, she began to understand the “true cruelty and manipulation.”
Smith wrote about hearing of nurses who were physically hit and abused by the very patients that they were tasked with caring for and how they were advised to “not fight back” and instead to “lay with their hands up” and wait for security.
“You beat me to the point that my body and mind are black, bruised, and bleeding out,” Smith described, adding that the healthcare system provided no protection to nurses like her.
She referenced nurses not being protected by the law or their employers, lines some believe were in direct reference to RaDonda Vaught, a nurse who was criminally charged after a medication error.
“You are a narcissist,” Smith declared in her letter. “You use and exploit us to line your pockets, using the common citizen’s money for overpriced healthcare.”
Source: The Oakwood Register
“I so desperately want to stay to help people, but I cannot stay in this abusive relationship,” Smith continued. “I’m only sorry to my patients and colleagues. You deserve so much better, but my abusive partner is relentless.”
Finally, Smith ended her letter with these chilling words:
“If I stay, I will lose my sanity—and possibly my life—forever.”
Many nurses have taken to social media to discuss the letter and their experiences. For example, @nurseerica has shared Smith’s tragic story on her social media accounts, where other healthcare workers have left comments with their own thoughts on her life and letter.
Several commenters, especially from those new to the nursing field or still in nursing school, also expressed discouragement at entering what appears to be a hopeless environment. But some nurses encouraged them to heed Smith’s tragic words not as a warning to get out, but to learn to stand up for themselves and support their own mental health as a nurse.
Nurses on LinkedIn also shared their thoughts
In her obituary, Smith’s family is also asking people who wish to help to donate to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, Montgomery County.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, or text MHA to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line.