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  • Writer's pictureDr. Joanna Robson

Is your Veterinarian struggling?

doctor with headache
Stress kills...

Behind those happy smiles and starched white coats may be a veterinarian in need, a fellow human dealing with depression, anxiety, compassion fatigue, burnout, moral stress and injury, secondary trauma, and PTSD.

Veterinarians now have the highest SUICIDE RATE of any profession. Yeah! We're number one!

(Article published December 20, 2018 by Amanda Carrozza)

Suicide Risk Highest Among Small Animal, Female Veterinarians.

According to a new CDC report, nearly 1 veterinarian has committed suicide every month since 1979. Female companion animal practitioners are at highest risk. Of the nearly 400 veterinarians who died by suicide over the past 36 years, 75% worked in companion animal practice.

This sobering statistic was included in a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Staggering Statistics Although multiple studies have shown that the suicide rate among veterinarians is higher than that in the general population, this study is the first to illustrate increased suicide mortality among female veterinarians. Results showed that women are 3.5 times as likely as the population at large to die from suicide, and male veterinarians are about twice as likely. More than 60% of veterinarians in the United States are women.

According to the study report, the proportion of female veterinarians who died by suicide has remained at 10% since 2000, but the number of deaths has increased steadily over that time. Results from an earlier study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) showed that female veterinarians have a higher prevalence of risk factors for suicide, including depression, suicidal ideation, and previous suicide attempts.

For the CDC’s study, NIOSH researchers looked at records from 11,620 veterinarians who died between 1979 and 2015. Study data came from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which maintains a data set of deaths of all known US veterinarians. These sources provided age, sex, race, clinical position, and species specialization. Using specialized software, researchers calculated proportionate mortality ratios to compare suicide deaths among veterinarians with those of the broader US population. The ratios indicated that suicide accounted for a greater proportion of deaths among veterinarians. As in the general population, firearms were the most commonly used method of suicide among veterinarians. What stood out, however, was that 37% of suicide deaths among veterinarians were caused by pharmaceutical poisoning. This is 2.5 times higher than pharmaceutical poisoning among the general population. Sixty-four percent of deaths among women and 32% of deaths among men in the profession were from this type of poisoning.

“This study shines a light on a complex issue in this profession,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, MD. “Using this knowledge, we can work together to reduce the number of suicides among veterinarians.”

Suicide Prevention: An Industry-Wide Effort Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and CDC data indicate it is on the rise. Factors specific to the veterinary profession that may contribute to suicide are believed to include: High practice demands, such as long work hours, work overload, and practice management responsibilities, High educational debt-to-income ratio, Poor work-life balance, Access to euthanasia solution used for animals and the training to calculate a dose that could also be lethal in people. While the conversation surrounding compassion fatigue, ethics, exhaustion, and the importance of mental and emotional well-being is being held more frequently, much work remains to be done. Thankfully, additional resources are becoming available.


More on this topic to come...

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