U.S. Veterinarians And Death By Suicide
Veterinary work is a hard job, and it’s a vocation that can have a tremendous toll on the mental health of its practitioners. Veterinarians are reported to have higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation than the general population in different studies. This study focused on updating the proportionate mortality ratio for suicide among U.S. veterianarians to help inform suicide prevention activities, and it is the first study to report the proportionate mortality ratio among female veterinarians in the United States.
Information from veterinarians’ obituaries from 1979 to 2015 was obtained from AVMA obituary and life insurance databases, and underlying causes of death were obtained using a centralized U.S. death records database. The proportionate mortality ratio was calculated by sex, age, and occupational position using a special software program.
Of the 398 veterinarians who died by suicide, 82% were male and 18% were female. 75% U.S. veterinarians died at a working age (≤ 65 years old). Further analysis showed that U.S. veterinarians have a higher proportionate mortality ratio than the general U.S. population. Male veterinarians were 2.1 times — and females 3.5 times — as likely as the general population to die by suicide.
This disproportionate ratio for suicide is associated with high level of occupational stress from long working hours, client expectations and complaints, work overload, unexpected outcomes, poor work-life balance, professional isolation, student debt and lack of senior support. Veterinarians with personality traits such as perfectionism, and who are exposed to unmanaged occupational stressors, are at risk for developing suicidal ideations. The incorporation of healthy work design and well-being concepts into the clinical environment, creating protective environments, teaching coping and problem-solving skills, and identifying and supporting people at risk can help to reduce the number of suicides among them.
The use of firearms was the most common method of suicide, but 39% of the veterinarians who died by suicide poisoned themselves with pharmaceuticals — at a rate more than two times the general population. The authors speculate that limiting and controlling access to potentially lethal pharmaceutical products might reduce the number of veterinarian suicides using this method.
For animal advocates, this study reports on the high proportionate mortality ratio for suicide among veterinarians, and gives indications on reasons and prevention strategies — grim, but very important information we can use to inform ourselves and help. We should consider these numbers deeply, and find ways to make sure vets feel valued as part of a broader animal advocacy community. Promoting suicide prevention for vets will benefit humans and non-human animals alike.