Not One More Vet
Back in July, I participated in a fitness-based fundraiser for a local women’s shelter. (Thank you again to everyone who made that the success it was, you are awesome.) Toward the end of that event, I saw a post about a similar fundraiser coming up for another organization I support.
If I’m going to be working out anyway, other people can benefit from it as much as I do.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This month’s awareness/fundraiser is Race Around The World, benefiting Not One More Vet. My page is here, and I will of course be thrilled if you want to throw a few bucks into that pot. But this is one of the rare occasions where I think raising awareness is even more crucial than raising funds.
The rest of this post will not be pretty.
Suicide rates in the U.S. have been rising in nearly every demographic since hitting a low in 2000, and are now the highest they’ve been since World War II. Suicide rates among veterinarians, particularly female veterinarians, have been increasing steadily for over 30 years.
– 1 in 6 veterinarians have contemplated suicide since leaving veterinary school.
– 31% have experienced depressive episodes.
– Veterinarians are 2.7 times more likely than the general public to die by suicide, with female veterinarians 3.5 more likely and male veterinarians 2.1 more likely.
If those statistics aren’t terrifying enough, there is this: A study spanning 11 years found that 25% of veterinarians who died by suicide used pentobarbital, the drug used for animal euthanasia. 72% of those deaths occurred at home.
The study also found that, as a group, veterinarians are less likely to have a history of non-fatal suicide attempts.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to the increased risk of suicide associated with veterinarians:
– Poor work-life balance due to extended hours working in solo or small practices (75% of veterinarians who died by suicide between 1979-2015 worked in a small practice)
– High debt-to-income ratio (veterinary students graduate with an average of $150K in student loan debt to begin careers with an average starting salary of $76K/year)
– Compassion fatigue (also known as secondhand shock and secondary traumatic stress)
– Frequent repeated exposure to death (particularly preventable death, particularly when it involves healthy animals in overcrowded shelters)
There is never any one thing that causes someone to contemplate or attempt suicide. Even if there weren’t myriad studies showing that, I could tell you from my own personal experience it is never just one thing. My first suicide attempt was not “caused” by encountering bullies while I was Trick-or-Treating in 1981. That was just the thing that caused the loosening of my already precarious grip on the belief that life was worth living. It was the last straw.
Which brings me to my final two statistics:
– 1 in 5 veterinarians has been cyberbullied, or knows a colleague who has been
– Cyberbullying increases instances of suicidal ideation by 14.5% and suicide attempts by 8.7%
Veterinarians are in a position unique among medical professionals, of regularly being asked to provide their services at reduced or no cost. When they are unable to do that, they are vilified.
They are not able to save every animal they treat. When an animal dies, after the vet has done everything possible to treat that animal, rather than blame the restrictions of known diagnostic and treatment options and the simple truth that not every animal responds to every treatment, often it is the vet who is personally blamed.
So people who as a group are already struggling, due to the factors first mentioned in this post, find themselves facing angry online mobs insisting they find a way to do the impossible.
And we find ourselves facing evermore heartbreaking statistics.
And it has to change.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1- First and foremost, remember that your vet is a human being doing a really difficult job. Not a god. Not a wizard. A human being with a really difficult job, who loves your animals almost as much as you do.
2- The old “if you see something, say something”. If you see this kind of cyberbullying and feel you can intervene without putting yourself at risk, do it. If you can’t, report it anonymously.
3- Donate to, or join our team in, Race Around The World.
4- Spread the word. Get these facts out in the open. Follow @notonemorevet on FB, IG, and/or Twitter. Share/repost/retweet their stuff. You can share this article in its entirety or copy/paste anything you like from it, with or without my name, I don’t care. I just want to start conversations.
Because nothing will change until we talk about it.
But everything can change if we do.
And maybe someday it really will be Not One More Vet.
Not One More Vet
NAMI: Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
AVMA Journal: Suicide among veterinarians in the United States from 1979 through 2015
CDC: New Study Finds Higher than Expected Number of Suicide Deaths among U.S. Veterinarians