I have accompanied many people through times of extreme despair and stress during my 16 years of counseling veterinary students. My heart breaks every time I learn of another suicide in our profession.

We are a very small profession and suicide is a very big problem.

We have lost Dr. Shirley Koshi, and more recently, renowned veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin. These names caught fire on social media, but almost all the comments under each obituary shared memories of other lost colleagues or stories of personal struggle.

Related Article: The Impaired Veterinarian: Recognizing Depression & Possible Suicide

This should not be a revelation. Several research studies have documented that worldwide, veterinarians commit suicide at 4 times the rate of the general population, and each time a colleague dies from this desperate act, the statistics are rolled out again.  These deaths are incredibly sad and wrenching, and I wish the families and colleagues of these 2 amazing women, and others who have lost loved ones to suicide, my deepest condolences. 

Although we cannot know the tipping point for each person who takes his or her life, we do know and understand many of the internal and external factors that afflict our profession. We attract and select compassionate, highly driven, committed individuals. Veterinary training can be unrelenting and isolating. Our culture promotes a “be tough” attitude and subtly discourages getting help or self-care.

We all must take responsibility to help each other. Although the reasons for suicide are complex, here are some suggestions for immediate action:

Individuals:

1. Take care of yourself.  Seek help if you are struggling.
2. Recognize that perfection is neither attainable nor a healthy motivator.
3. Recognize that asking for help conveys strength and courage, not weakness.
4. Take a risk and reach out if you suspect someone is struggling.
5. Be direct. If you sense someone is in trouble, ask if he or she has considered suicide.
6. Listen to and validate the colleague’s pain.
7. Encourage the colleague to get help.
8. Follow through and support colleagues  while they get help (see Additional Resources & Aids).

Additional Resources & Aids

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK [8255]) provides access to trained telephone counselors, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Other helpful resources include:

American Association of Suicidology

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

American Veterinary Medical Association Wellness Resources

The Profession:

1. Employ a counselor or social worker at every veterinary school.
2. Make mental health and well-being education a mandatory component of training.
3. Demand acceptance and support of those seeking help for mental health struggles.
4. Conduct conversations about these issues at every conference, leadership training event, and professional association meeting.
5. Encourage and fund research into both the causes and treatment of suicide within our profession.

We are a very small profession and this is a very big problem. Please join me in supporting these crucial steps wherever you have influence. Our lives, and our profession, depend on it.

Read All About It

Burnout and depression in the veterinary profession. Fawcett A; Small Animal Talk; http://www.smallanimaltalk.com/2014/02/burnout-and-depression-in-veterinary.html

Finding the calm amid the chaos. JAVMA; https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/131115a.aspx

Suicide awareness: Dr. Sophia Yin. VetGirl; http://vetgirlontherun.com/suicide-awareness-dr-sophia-yin/