Skipper GE, Williams JB.
J Vet Med Educ. 2012 Spring;39(1):79-82.
A high suicide risk has been reported among veterinarians in comparison to the general population. Postulated causes have included depression, substance abuse, work-related stress, reluctance to admit psychiatric problems, and access to lethal drugs and/or familiarity with euthanasia. Members of the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), all veterinarians licensed in Alabama, and all US veterinary-association executive directors were surveyed regarding their attitudes concerning mental health issues, including veterinarian suicide. Only 10% of veterinary student respondents (N=58) believed that suicide risk is higher among veterinarians than in the general population. Of the 22 state associations’ executive directors who participated in the survey, 37% believed that suicide is a significant concern for veterinarians and only 44% indicated that a veterinary wellness program was available in their respective states. Of the 1,455 licensed veterinarians in Alabama, 701 responded to the survey; 11% of respondents believed that suicide among veterinarians was a problem. In addition, 66% of respondents indicated that they had been “clinically depressed,” but 32% of those with depression had not sought treatment. More females (27%) than males (20%) admitted that they had “seriously considered suicide” (p<.01). Female veterinarians were more likely than male veterinarians (15% versus 7%) to indicate that they were “not sure they’d made the right career choice” (p<.001), and 4% of all respondents indicated “definitely not being happy with their career.” It is of concern that veterinarians not only have a higher risk of suicide but that they also have fewer support structures. The wide discrepancies between the published risk of suicide for veterinarians and their own views of their risk suggests an inadequate awareness of their own mental health vulnerability which could put them at higher risk.