Suicide. Death. The End. Is it an escape? Or being let down?
There was a meme that went round recently of a Dr leaving a consultation room after telling a family their son had died. It was captioned: only one of these people is going back to work today.
Now consider this:
Vets are 4x more likely than the general population, and 2x more likely than those in health care professions to die by suicide (UK study Bartram et al, 2010).
Nearly 1/10 US veterinarians suffer severe psychological distress, and 1/6 have had suicidal thoughts since graduation (CDC Notes, 2014).
Last week 2 vets committed suicide (that I know about).
We want the best vets possible so select the highest achieving perfectionist straight A students there are, push them through the toughest school there is, and put them into a profession where they will fail.
Why fail? Animals will die. No matter how good you are there will be animals you cannot save. Animals that owners decide are too much work or too big for their flat so have you euthanise. Animals that you do everything you know how to save that just die. Animals where owners cannot afford the treatment you want.
And then there are the questions you ask yourself. The questions that keep you from sleep at night. What else could I do better? What could I do different? Could I save that animal?
The next day it repeats. The next week it repeats. These people that have succeeded at everything they have ever done are failing. Nature is beating them in the battle of life.
Then there are owners. Who demand the world for nothing. And then blame the vet when they lose.
Could it actually get worse?
Now there is an even bigger potential problem with social media causing the suicide of vets through cyberbullying. Not by their patients, or owners that they have worked with. Complete strangers that have a single side of the story that judge them.
I saw it on Facebook last night – a owner posting about making complaints to a vet after their pet died and getting cheered on by people that knew nothing about the backstory – a quick search of the group showed that the owner posted a few days earlier about their pet not eating for several days before they went to the vet…
Yet it is the vets fault the animal died. This perfectionist that tried to fix a problem compounded by the owners delay in seeking treatment who failed. Now judged publically as a failure by people they do not even know.
Is it a problem? Is the suicide rate going go up as cyberbullying increases?
There have been changes, there are people getting involved to reach out and help people who ask for their help. In the UK we have the excellent vetlife helpline which is there for vets in need.
Something that has always confused me is that we are really good at expecting people to come to us. We tend to be reactive rather than proactive. This is what I think the next step in reducing the number of suicides will be. Some kind of proactive system for monitoring the mental health of vets.
Actually around midnight last night I came up with an idea that I am going work on over the next month or so that I hope may be able to do this. I will keep you updated.