Charity group calls attention to high suicide rates in veterinarian community
Veterinary medicine has high suicide rate in Canada, local doctor says
Veterinarians in the U.S. and Canada and beyond are speaking up about mental health and the pressures of their job. And a social media campaign is raising awareness about the high rates of suicide among veterinarians, compared with the general population.
According to research published last year by the Ontario Veterinary College, more than a quarter of Canadian veterinarians reported suicidal thoughts in the previous 12 months.
Sudbury veterinarian Darren Stinson says he believes the reasons for those numbers are complex, as there are many stresses with the job.
"It's not all playing with puppies and kittens every day all day long. Sometimes we have to give clients some incredibly bad news about their pet's health," he said.
"Sometimes we are active in putting that pet to sleep and ending that pet's life and ending that relationship between that owner and that pet, and that's incredibly hard to do."
Stinson says the pandemic has added to that stress, as vets try to keep staff and clients safe.
The group behind the social media campaign is a charity called Not One More Vet, which was founded in 2014 after the suicide of a prominent veterinarian in the U.S. It currently has a Facebook group involving more than 26,000 veterinary professionals from all over the world.
"Veterinary medicine, unfortunately, has the highest suicide rate among professionals in the United States, and it's very close in Canada as well," Stinson added.
"It affects everybody personally. I lost a classmate to suicide several years ago. I was shocked. He seemed to be an extremely happy-go-lucky fellow during school. It didn't seem like anything bothered him. Obviously, probably things were bothering him."
Getting support is key, but so is being aware of mounting stress.
"If you don't recognize that you're having issues yourself and you don't reach out for help, things can build up and people can make, unfortunately, bad choices for everyone around them," he said.
"Suicide is not the right choice at any time."
The pandemic is adding to the load that the veterinary community has to bear.
"Right now there are mental health issues across the board. We're hearing about it in the media, whether it be with kids, with parents, with the general population. But with veterinarians, it is quite high," Stinson said.
"We're experiencing an extremely high volume caseload in all the practices. And unfortunately, along with that comes frustration among clients. And some clients don't handle that well because they're dealing with issues themselves, as well as their pets, and they sometimes behave inappropriately to the veterinarian or to staff."
Stinson says it's important to build awareness around the pressure the veterinary community faces.
"I don't think people understand about veterinary medicine. Veterinary medicine is a pay-per-use system. There's no government subsidy to buy that anesthetic machine or to buy that x-ray machine, as you're doing that out of your pocket with loans from the bank," he said.
"And then you have to charge clients fees to be able to pay for all of that and to employ your staff."
Now with the pandemic, extra expenses are being incurred to keep staff and clients safe.
"We are all working essentially curbside, which is a stress, because the only time I actually get to have a face-to-face conversation with a client is when we're putting a client's pet to sleep. And that's when that's the only exception to the rule of bringing clients into the building. And those aren't fun appointments."
Stinson says the veterinarian community in Greater Sudbury is extremely supportive, and they have regular meetings where they can check in with each other.
But with social media campaigns like Not One More Vet, the hope is more of the general public will try to be kind and patient.
"Appreciate that our our volumes are significantly higher, that we stress when we can't get your pet in for an appointment right away," Stinson said.
"And sometimes it's just not possible. And that's why we have an on-call rotation that allows for your pet to get that timely care."
If you're thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, the Canada Suicide Prevention Service is available 24/7. Their number is 1.833.456.4566
With files from Sam Juric