Facts About the High Rate of Suicide in Veterinarians
Most pet owners hold their veterinarians in high regard.
They bridge the communication gap between furry family friends and the humans they live with. People generally know when there is something wrong with their pets, but to know for sure what is wrong and what to do about it is something else entirely. It is troubling and sad to learn that studies indicate the suicide rate among veterinarians is from two—to as much as four-times higher than that of the general population.
Potential Causes: Personality, Stress, Euthanasia, Ethics, Expectations
There are a variety of factors that can contribute to this alarming statistic. One may be that the general compassionate, over-achieving, driven personality that makes a person a good vet can also make that person a candidate for depression. Severe depression can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Another theory is that many vets end up as solo practitioners and may not have the mindset or skills required to run a stressful business. They often work long days and are on call all the time, and they don’t take the time to enjoy hobbies or take time off with their families. This pressure can build up over time, when they really just wanted to help animals.
Additionally, vets have a deep connection with their patients, and often see animals through an entire lifespan. When these animals die it takes a toll on the doctors as well as their human families. Since euthanasia is part of a vet’s practice and considered a humane end to pain and suffering, some believe depressed veterinarians may see this as a solution to their own problems. Add to that the fact that vets have both the drugs and the knowledge to end their own lives, and it could mean more successful suicide attempts.
Veterinarians also have to deal with the human owners of their patients—and some people expect vets to be miracle workers. Others expect vets to do their work for free…or they may be asked to put down animals because a treatment is too expensive or inconvenient. Vets anguish as people struggle to decide whether to pay for the care for their pet, or pay for a semester of college for a child. Combine the stress of dealing with abused and neglected animals, compassion for the animals and owners of beloved pets, and the incidence of suicide becomes easier to understand.
People who become vets tend to set very high standards for themselves and feel anything less than perfection is failure. Add to that the financial pressures of school debt that can be as much as medical school, but with only about a third of the income potential. Many vets see themselves as someone put on earth to help animals. As “helpers,” they don’t feel comfortable asking for help themselves.
What can pet owners do to help their vets?
For one thing, know that most vets are people of integrity who truly want to give your pet the best care they can. Remember that they must make a living. Medications and tests are expensive for the vet as well as for you. If you are concerned about being able to pay for testing or a treatment, ask the vet for an estimate before he begins. You may also want to consider taking out pet insurance.
Vets often work in isolation. If your vet is a solo practitioner, take a minute to just talk with him. Ask him about his day and his family. Let him know you care about him as a person, not just someone to aid your pet.
Don’t ask your vet to put a healthy animal down. If you are no longer able to take care of your pet, or if you move somewhere that doesn’t allow animals, try to find a home for her. At the very least, take her to a shelter. Most healthy pets are adoptable even if they’re older.
No matter how educated, experienced, and well meaning your vet is, or how well equipped his office is, there are some illnesses or injuries that are beyond treatment. If the vet tells you there is nothing he can do, chances are great he feels as bad about the situation as you do. Treat these valiant doctors with the respect and friendship they deserve. The trend of a higher suicide rate in vets is a trend that must be stopped.