In the last decade there has been an explosion of research into mental health and suicide within veterinary medicine. A 2008 U.K. study first raised alarm bells when it found veterinarians commit suicide at a rate of four times that of the general population and twice the rate of medical doctors and dentists.
Massive student debt, stagnating wages, difficult clients and poor work-life balance all contribute to form a deadly combination for some veterinarians. “As veterinarians, we do view death as the end of pain,” says Carlin Jones, one veterinarian who has struggled with depression and anxiety. “That’s what we’re taught—when the pain is too bad, euthanasia is the one thing left we can do. So when we’re in that much psychological pain we’re going to look at it that way.”
But the veterinary community around the world is stepping up to provide support for veterinarians struggling. At the college level, some schools have organized retreats for faculty to attend that focus on promoting wellness within the profession and destigmatizing mental illness.
Taylor Gaines, one of the founders of a blog called Beasts Unburdened, says that veterinarians need to talk about these issues in a “real” way.
“Not just a vague ‘sometimes people feel sad’, but people need to step up and say ‘I have felt like I wanted to/have tried to kill myself. I am still here, here is why,’” he says.
For practicing vets, some state veterinary bodies are implementing wellness programs with support and hotlines that veterinarians who are experiencing psychological distress can contact. Alabama has one of the oldest of such programs in the country. And there is a similar program in the U.K. with a 24 hour hotline that veterinarians can access if they are feeling psychological distress.
Jones recently shared her story with Horse Network in the hopes of erasing some of the stigma surrounding mental health issues. In this video, she talks about reaching the point where she almost took her own life and how she recovered from that. You can read Horse Network’s full examination of the issue here.