Veterinarians go into their field of work with the best intentions. Like many individuals in passion-driven professions, veterinarians want to help…animals.
Working with patients that cannot communicate through spoken or written word – such as dogs, cats, and the occasional reptile – may seem ideal and stress free, but veterinarians experience the same personal and professional challenges as other healthcare providers.
Maybe even more.
A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that veterinarians in the United States have had an increased risk of suicide for the past three decades. In contrast to the general population, the CDC found that female veterinarians were 3.5 times as likely to die from suicide. Their male counterparts at 2.1 times more likely to take their own lives. Today over 60 percent of veterinarians in the U.S. are women.
Moreover, the study found that 75 percent of the veterinarians who took their own lives worked in companion animal practice and 37 percent of the suicide deaths were caused by pharmaceutical poisoning.
Data from the CDC indicates that suicide is on the rise and it is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
Research suggests that there is seldom a single cause for suicide.
In the field of veterinary medicine, there are several factors that may contribute to the causation.
- Pressure of educational debt-to-income ratio.
- Compassion fatigue.
- Work life balance.
- Cyber-bullying from angry pet advocates or owners.
- Functioning as animal undertakers.
- Access to euthanasia drugs meant for patients and the ability to calculate lethal dosage for humans.
- Frustration and feelings of powerlessness in providing the best care due to expensive treatment costs, which some pet owners are not capable of, or are unwilling to pay for.
- Professional stress from having to accept the pet owner’s wishes when they may not be in the best interest of the pet’s dire prognosis.
These factors, combined with other challenges the provider may have, can develop into a troubling set of circumstances. As is the case with other caretakers, some vets are afraid or do not know how to ask for help. They see themselves as the caretakers of other beings yet are unable to ask for help when they need assistance.
Veterinarian professionals licensed through the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Veterinary Medical Board and others across the nation recognize there is a need to support their fellow colleagues.
There are online support groups and networks where veterinarians can discuss sensitive topics among their peers and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has created mental well-being resources for its members.