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Vets at high risk of suicide--study

Experts reveal poisoning as the most popular measure adopted for ending life by both male and female veterinarians accounting for nearly 80 and 90 percent of suicide.

According to an alarming study, the odds of veterinarians committing suicide is four times higher than the average person and two times more than that found in other health professionals.

Experts theorize that veterinarians are more prone to ending their lives due to the pressure of their job, the repetitive nature of killing animals. and the close proximity they have shared with colleagues who have committed suicide.

Neuroscientist David Bartram of the University of Southampton, stated, "Veterinary surgeons are often asked to end the lives of animals, either directly in the case of euthanasia, or indirectly in the case of involvement in the slaughter of meat producing livestock.

"Familiarity with death and dying may affect attitudes in regard to the expendability of life. This altered attitude to death may then facilitate self justification and lower their inhibitions towards perceiving suicide as a solution to their own problems.

"Direct or indirect exposure to the suicidal behaviour of others can influence attitudes and increase vulnerability to suicide. Knowledge of individual suicides can travel readily through the social networks of a small profession."

Common methods adopted to commit suicide
Experts reveal poisoning as the most popular measure adopted for ending life by both male and female veterinarians accounting for nearly 80 and 90 per cent of suicides.

This different attitude towards life and death may be attributed to the easy accessibility to lethal drugs such as barbiturates, which are stored at their work place. Besides they are well versed in their use.

Firearms was the second most common method of ending life among the men (16 per cent) because they are used for euthanasia of large animals.

Experts theorize veterinarians are more prone to ending their lives due to the pressure of their job, the repetitive nature of killing animals, and the close proximity they shared with colleagues who have committed suicide.

Contributing factors for suicide in vets
In a bid to establish the possible reasons behind the suicidal tendencies in veterinarians the researchers outlined a few contributing factors.

According to experts, personality traits such as neuroticism and perfectionism raise the risk for suicidal behavior.

The veterinary career involves long working hours, high psychological demands, lack of managerial support, and unreasonable expectations of client which elevate the risk of suicidal thoughts.

Moreover, many veterinarians are working privately, which alienates them both socially and professionally making them more vulnerable to depressive and suicidal tendencies.

Need for further research
According to researchers there is need for a thorough research for the well-being of the professionals as well as the animals under their care.

Bartram has urged a careful scrutiny of all stages of the veterinary career graph, right from application to vet schools through graduate training, and then employment to identify any factors that could later trigger suicidal behavior.

To get informative insight and help formulate interventions to tackle the problem, Bartram proposed interviews of veterinarians who had experienced suicidal thoughts.

The paper, ‘Veterinary Surgeons and Suicide: A Structured Review of Possible Influences on Increased Risk,’ appears in the March 27 edition of the ‘Veterinary Record’.