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#NotOneMoreVet- Suicide Prevention Month

September is Suicide Prevention Month– and we’d like to share a professional dirty little secret: veterinarians and veterinary technicians are approximately 3 ½ times more likely to die by suicide than members of the general population. In fact, a Center for Disease Control (CDC) study found that 1 in 6 (and some argue the stats are closer to 1 in 4) veterinarians have contemplated suicide. Sadly, we rank among the highest rate of suicide of any profession.

Suicide is considered an epidemic in our industry - and most of us here at AVH know colleagues who have attempted to or who have tragically taken their own lives. In recent years, The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), CDC, and other health care organizations have taken a hard look at these statistics and have tried to identify contributing factors to this phenomenon.

Our profession attracts intelligent, driven, people-pleasers who above all else, want to help animals. Nobody joins our industry to become rich. According to the AVMA, an average veterinary student graduates with 150K (or more) in student debt, and veterinary annual salaries start at about 65K causing a high debt-to-income ratio.

In addition to the financial pressure many veterinarian professionals experience, there are also the elements of long hours and a highly stressful job that requires us to be counselors, educators, financial advisors, pastors, and team leaders. We wear many hats throughout the day and suffer from “compassion fatigue” – taking on the emotional burden of our clients and our patients. There is mental trauma involved in our work – some of our cases are simply gruesome and there is nothing more soul-crushing to us than to see an animal that has been abused.

Social media and cyber-bullying has taken a toll on us as well. What used to be routine medical or management decisions are sometimes weighted with the potential for “online” backlash. When situations reach a public forum, we are unable to respond to unfounded or disputable criticisms for medical confidentiality reasons. This renders us helpless and most clients have no idea the impact that their words have on us.

Another significant factor in this messy equation is quite simple: we have professional resolve that euthanasia is a means to end suffering. When a veterinary professional's personal suffering becomes too much to bear, it is not a far reach to consider our own euthanasia as a legitimate course of action.

Although this is a grim topic to share, it’s very real.

And that said, there is some hope.

Dr. Nicole McArthur created NOMV (Not. One. More. Vet) on October 1, 2014 following the suicide of the world-renowned veterinarian, Dr. Sophia Yin. In the days following her death, there were news reports that veterinarians are at increased risk for suicide, bringing this tragic topic to the national stage. Dr. McArthur started a secret Facebook group to discuss everything veterinary medicine: the good, the bad, and the ugly. She invited her veterinary friends and encouraged them to invite their friends. The forum grew far beyond anything Dr. McArthur could have ever imagined. NOMV’s Facebook forum membership currently exceeds 26,000 veterinary professionals worldwide. Today, NOMV has grown to a robust non-profit organization providing education, support, and resources for veterinary professionals and students across the globe.

In addition to this, Dr. Yin’s death made many of us examine our own mental health and the mental health of our veterinary co-workers. Here at Atlantic Vet, we started a “well-being” program that continues to offer YMCA memberships and has hosted guest speakers on topics ranging from nutrition to Mindfulness, and workshops involving yoga and art therapy. As we look forward to the “other side” of the pandemic, we are getting back on track with our programming. Most recently, we sponsored an off-site event with a local life coach who has a powerful story about making changes in his life and how we might take initiative and make positive changes in our own lives.

We love our work, our clients, and above all, we love our patients! It is our privilege to be the “other family doctor”.

If you are reading this and are struggling yourself, there is help available. The National Suicide Prevention Helpline is 800-273-8255, the Samaritans number is 877-870-4673. Please reach out.

Dr. Jeff and Annie Rockwell

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