Veterinary Suicide: Super Powers, Yes. Super Human, No
Being a veterinarian has never been easy, and arguably there are more pressures today than ever before. If you don’t believe it, consider this: Veterinarians are killing themselves in alarming numbers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found male vets are 2.1 times as likely and female vets 3.5 times as likely to die by suicide compared with the general population. The much higher rate for women is especially concerning as more than 60 percent of vets are women.
Published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in March of 2015, results from the first mental health survey of U.S. veterinarians revealed that vets are more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders, experience bouts of depression, and have suicidal thoughts compared with the U.S. adult population. Specifically, these data indicated that nearly one in ten U.S. veterinarians might experience serious psychological distress, and more than one in six might have contemplated suicide since graduation. That’s the data, for me this is personal.
And now what I have learned is that this phenomenon is spreading around the world. Mexico has the same problem. In Mexico (and many other countries) the suicide rate among veterinarians is about twice as high as most other medical professionals.
At what is likely the largest veterinary conference in the Western Hemisphere, CVDL (Conferncia Veterinario), Leon, Mexico, I was honored to be asked to partake in this video seen at the meeting’s opening ceremonies. Dr. Cesar Morales, the CVDL CEO says, “To ignore the problem won’t help the problem; we must confront it.”
In America, many veterinary and also veterinary technician schools offer psychological counseling to students. The American Veterinary Medical has created an initiative to help. Increasingly, speakers at U.S. veterinary conferences focus on mental health and well-being. And Not One More Vet is an online veterinary support group founded in 2014 by Dr. Nicole McArthur. It has grown into an international group of veterinarians who come together on Facebook to laugh, cry and lend a supportive ear with their colleagues.
One challenge, as addressed briefly in the video, is dealing with social media. True, other professionals must as well – but understandably veterinarians take such criticisms to heart. And family practices can truly be financially hit hard by one loud angry client – even if the basis for that anger isn’t warranted. Facts may not matter.
Another problem in Mexico may be the lack of work once graduated, or at least in places where people want to move. In the U.S., in particular, is debt following graduation. The average for only those 2016 veterinary school graduates with debt is $167,534.89 and over 20 percent carried at least $200,000 in debt, and often much more, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
For what they do, I agree with Dr. Morales – veterinarians do have super powers. But sadly, they’re not super humans.