How to save a life

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
The job stresses and challenges that more than 100,000 veterinarians in the U.S. face have led to disproportionately high suicide rates among this profession.

The job stresses and challenges that more than 100,000 veterinarians in the U.S. face have led to disproportionately high suicide rates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A CDC study published in January 2021, showed that nearly 400 veterinarians died by suicide between 1979 and 2015. The study analyzed more than 11,000 veterinarian death records in that time frame. The study also found that female veterinarians are 3.5 times more likely to kill themselves than members of the general population.

Veterinarian groups around the country led by the American Veterinary Medical Association are joining in the conversation to help promote wellness in the workplace and to reach out to veterinarians struggling with a mental health issues.

Wisconsin veterinarian Meg Mueller who serves as District 8 Representative of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association says the pandemic has exacerbated the stresses faced by veterinarians and their staff members.

"Last year we saw a lot of professionals in our field take a step back for many reasons. I was exposed to COVID-19 and had to quarantine which put a major strain on our clinic during that time period," Mueller said. "It was also hard to find those times to unwind and destress after a busy day. We especially had to find a way to be there for everyone. Checking in on them and asking where are in at in your headspace. And are you doing ok?"

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Mueller says paying attention to workplace wellness issues are especially important with the rising incidences of suicides in her profession.

"Mental health aspects are always a part of it, whether we consider it to be compassion fatigue or just day to day stress," she said. "This job doesn't necessarily turn off at 5 o'clock."

Veterinary professionals are very much at risk for compassion fatigue, which can lead to serious health problems—both psychological and physical. Finding the balance between providing the best medical care for patients while serving client needs and protecting staff members is a high priority for WVMA which launched the Veterinary Professionals Assistance Program (VPAP) to help with mental health wellness.

The VPAP offers guidance and assistance with family issues, finding child and adult care, workplace concerns, legal and financial issues, stress, health and wellness, and any other issues that concern veterinary professionals. It also offers personal, confidential guidance, coaching and counseling for all veterinary professionals and their household members. To contact, call 866-440-6556

The veterinary community's quest to raise awareness so that not one more vet is lost to suicide is also the mission of Nicole McArthur, a veterinarian who launched a small Facebook group back in 2014 to share the day to day struggles of the job with colleagues. The group mushroomed due to the acute need for veterinarians to bring those conversations out into the light. 

Today Not One More Vet provides the necessary support to all members of veterinary teams and students who are struggling or considering suicide. Since its creation seven years ago, the NOMV community has increased to over 25,000 veterinary professional members worldwide.

In addition to providing peer-to-peer support on their Facebook page, NOMV is a charity organization that provides financial and professional mental health support to veterinarians in need.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources.

Resources

  • AVMA Wellness Page: Resources on cyberbullying, online reputation management as well as workplace wellness programs and crisis hotlines at https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/wellbeing.
  • Crisis Text line: Text “HOME” to 741741
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.