A tragic fact has come to light in recent years; that veterinarians take their own lives at significantly higher rates that the overall population. Also, studies consistently show veterinarians and veterinary students more susceptible than most to depression and emotional stress, which contribute to suicide risk.
The industry has taken notice, initiating several programs to address the problem. However, suicide is a personal issue, difficult to discuss and difficult for any of us to understand. Understanding is just what we need though, as we strive to ensure that you, your colleagues and the next generation of veterinarians find ways to address problems and retain hope for the future.
Recognizing this critical topic, AABP arranged for suicidologist Barry Feldman, PhD, from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, to conduct a pair of seminars during its recent conference. Suicidology is a branch of psychology focusing on causes and prevention of suicide.
Feldman told the group that in 2015, veterinarians ranked fourth among professions at highest risk of suicide, after medical doctors, dentists and law enforcement officers.
During the sessions, Feldman asked participants, which numbered around 200, to fill out anonymous survey forms asking about causes of stress in the veterinary profession and whether the individual participant has experienced depression or suicidal thoughts. He compiled the results at the end of the session, and about 60 percent of participating veterinarians and students indicated they have experienced depression and 30 percent have had suicidal thoughts. That should concern all of us.
The psychology behind suicide is complex and best left to professionals, but a common theme in Feldman's explanations was a feeling of helplessness, hopelessness and a desire to face problems alone. He also noted that key factors in suicide risk include work that desensitizes people to death, and ready access to tools such as firearms or drugs. Sound familiar?
Feldman made it clear that communication is key in reducing suicide risk. If you experience depression, emotional distress or suicidal thoughts, talk with someone. Talk with a friend, family member, colleague, teacher, clergy member or health professional. Or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Any of them can help you put problems in perspective and set you on a healing path. People do care, and they want to help. Heck, call me if you want. I don't know much, but I'm a good listener. My number is 970-581-5873.
If you see signs of depression in an associate, friend or student, talk with them, let them know you care and will help in any way you can.
AVMA recognizes this issue among veterinarians and has compiled a wealth of resources on their Wellness and Peer Assistance website (www.avma.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/Personal/PeerAndWellness) which could be a good place to begin identifying a problem and seeking solutions anonymously.
However you do it, find help. To your family, friends and colleagues, you are irreplaceable, and the knowledge and skills for which you have worked so hard are critical for society. We need you.