American veterinarians four times more likely to commit suicide than the general population

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Smiling vet

I’m sorry that this is a bit depressing. I don’t like to write depressing stuff but it needs to be addressed particularly as I wrote an article quite a long time ago about animal rescue workers who have the highest suicide rate among American workers.

Smiling vet
Smiling vet but is he smiling inside? Photo in public domain or fair use.

So on the one hand we have people involved in animal rescue who are more prone to suicide than the general public and and on the other hand we have veterinarians who are significantly more likely to commit suicide than the general public. The common denominator of these two groups is animals.

My immediate impression is that it is the depressing nature of the work due to the high euthanasia rate of animals both at veterinary clinics and rescue centres which is the likely underlying cause.

That’s my personal opinion and it is one reason that is stated in a study which was conducted about nine years ago and published on the Pub med.gov website. It looks at the possible influences on the increased risk of suicide by veterinary surgeons.

They state that a possible factor would be the characteristics of the people who go into the profession. Another potential reason is the “negative effects” during undergraduate training. I don’t know what “negative effects” means in this context and I’m surprised that there are any negative effects during undergraduate training to be a veterinarian.

Another factor is the stress of the job. There is no doubt that being a veterinarian can be stressful but then again many other jobs are also stressful. A further factor would be that vets know how to commit suicide with drugs and they have access to those drugs. This is because they are routinely euthanising animals.

Further possibilities are alcohol or drug misuse and a stigma associated with mental illness. And what about compassion fatigue? You can end up with mild PTSD, a mental health issue which can lead to suicide.

If a person is surrounded by death, which in the context of being a veterinarian is a failure arising out of an inability to successfully treat a sick animal, I feel sure that it rubs off on the person. Another factor that comes to mind is the client. The client is the person who owns the cat or dog. They can be very difficult. Some actively request that the veterinarian put down their animal at their request. Or they ask the veterinarian to declaw their cat. This is a highly objectionable request but unfortunately most veterinarians in America do it. I wonder if they have a guilt complex about it because it goes very precisely against their oath as declawing causes harm at the convenience of the owner (99% of declawing is carried out for non-therapeutic purposes). They do it for monetary reasons indicating that vets in the US have money issues partly because they rack up large debts when training.

Another factor which has just come to mind is that there must be pressure to turn over clients quickly. They have to get the client in and out of the door quite fast in order to turn a profit. It’s a combination of events but the biggest negative and emotionally draining event is to euthanise a long line of companion animals.

P.S. What about vet techs? Are they also committing suicide more often than the norm?