With Veterinary occupational depression and suicide on the rise, it is imperative that the veterinary profession comes together in support and strength, as well as sharing resources and acknowledgment of the crisis that is suicide within the veterinary field. Education for the medical professionals involved, as well as for the public can be the difference in life and death. Veterinary professionals are 4x more likely to commit suicide than the general public, and 2-3x more than other medical professions. Due to the emotional strain and long hours that accompany each and every treatment, successful or not, they take a toll on veterinary professionals, especially when death always surrounds the profession.
Why are veterinary professionals more prone to suicide? Many believe that it is due to the demands of everyday euthanasia, and also lack of sleep. According to Witte and Angarano, “Veterinarians have an increased risk for suicide compared with the general population, yet there is little consensus regarding why this might be. We hypothesized that veterinarians become relatively fearless about death due to their repeated exposure to euthanasia. Accordingly, we predicted that there would be a positive relationship between experience with euthanasia and fearlessness about death, due to emotional habituation to the process of euthanasia” (2013, p. 125). Knowing the statistics and what they mean for veterinary professionals is a great first step in preventing future tragedies. “Veterinarians are four times more likely than members of the general population and two times more likely than other health professionals to die by suicide” (Witte & Angarano, 2013, p.125). Knowing what causes the statistics and what the result of these statics mean for the profession and family members can also help prevent suicide within the veterinary occupation. Sleep deprivation, as well as isolation can play huge roles in the cause of suicide and an increase in statistics, as well as “burnout”. Burnout is when one is so emotionally and physically challenged due to stress, that it causes a complete break down involving helplessness and feeling overwhelmed (Carlini & Associates, 2016, p. 87). Many veterinary professionals feel this on a regular basis, and it takes its toll on the mind and body. As practitioners and or loved ones to veterinary professionals, knowing its okay to break down, and that it is okay to have failures, as there has been so many more accomplishments, and remembering that having a bad day, does not mean that it is a bad life, is key when seeking help or helping someone else who is at risk.
How can we prevent future suicides within the field? Be understanding and open to those who need it, within the field or in everyday life, everyone deserves to be heard and understood. As a friend, know the signs of suicide and depression, check in with them often, do not let them face this alone, even if it’s what they think that they want, sadness can cloud judgment. As a client, be courteous and considerate at the fact that the professionals set their life aside to go to school, and learn and then continue to practice and care for your animals, as your animals are their lives. Asking them to do things outside of their moral code or legal obligations can take a huge toll on their minds. According to Stoewn, “ Most of the 800 veterinarians surveyed feel ethical qualms when pet owners ask them to euthanize animals that could be treated, or when owners ask to keep pets alive who will suffer needlessly” (2015, p. 89). Veterinary professionals stick to a strict code of ethics, and asking them to go against that code for selfish reasons is a huge problem within the occupation. Another key element is being knowledgeable about the signs of suicide, so we can help prevent future disasters. Knowing the signs is always the first step that is taken, so help can be given to those when needed. Signs of suicide can range from person to person, therefore no set of signs can work for everyone as it is subjective. However, isolating themselves, giving away belongings, loss in appetite, and disinterest in their hobbies are indicators of depression and warning signs of suicide. As a veterinary professional, knowing when and how to ask for help when resources are critically needed is crucial. Those around you can do everything in their power to help, however if the person is not receptive, then there is nothing more the support system can do without getting the police involved for their own safety. It is okay to feel helpless and look for help or guidance, it does not make you any less extraordinary as a person, or as a veterinary professional. Friends and family, knowing how to reach out and help those who need it most is critical, and should be brought up with the utmost care and sympathy, do not make them feel guilty or that something is wrong with them, rather shower them with love and show them that they have a support system.
Furthermore, by moving forward and vanquishing ignorance, we are able to spread love and support, rather than keeping the misconception that “ignorance is bliss”. Ignorance can and will kill given the opportunity, and it is up to man kind to eradicate that notion, and become a better society full of love and understanding. Using education, statistics, and love to help fight the rising suicide rates within veterinary medicine can and will help save lives. After proper education, veterinary students were “more likely or much more likely to recognize the signs of a person at risk of suicide, approach a person at risk of suicide, ask a person about suicide, and connect a person at risk of suicide with help” (Mellanby & Allister, 2010, p. 730). However, if help was too late or unbeneficial to the person, knowing how to move forward after a death within the veterinary occupation is also of utmost important to others mental health and wellbeing. Following suicide with compassion and love, as well as a better understanding of depression, can help save a life by knowing the signs and how to help. Persons can learn how to be supportive and educational to those around them, within the general public as well as the veterinary occupation can and will save lives, all it takes is being observant and caring, both of which are free to you and everyone, or as the famous saying goes, “it costs nothing to be a good person”. Due to the increase of suicide within veterinary medicine, coming together not only as a profession, but also as one unit that makes up our incredible species can help save thousands of lives. With a newfound education of suicide prevention, it is possible to see the signs of those who need help, and how to help them. Through love and compassion, the suicide statistics of Veterinary professionals can drop from that of being 4x more likely to commit suicide than the general public, and 2-3x more than other medical professions, to virtually nothing. The goal is to spread love, kindness, and education until the occupation is no longer a suicide statistic to be compared to. Education and love can and will be the saving grace of the veterinary field, as well as the human race. Veterinary professionals can and will be more than a statistic, they will be the voice for those who cannot speak, a comforting hand to those who need it, and most importantly, a lifesaver.
Contributed by: Sierra Scott
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