In almost 4 decades, 400 US veternarians killed themselves, says study

It also reveals that veternarians are up to 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population with different occupations

By SA Gayatri
Published: Friday 21 December 2018

Representational Photo. Credit: Getty ImagesThe past 36 years (1979-2015) saw 11,600 veterinary doctors die in the United States and 400 of them committed suicides, a new study published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Association reveals.

Also, more than three decades of data showed that veterinarians were up to 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than others with different occupations.

The study highlights that in 2014, a survey of 11,627 veterinarians found that nine per cent were undergoing psychological distress, 31 per cent had experienced depressive episodes, and 17 per cent had experienced suicidal ideation since leaving veterinary school. Each of these is considered a risk factor leading to suicide.

The study found that more male than female veterinarians (326) committed suicides. From 2000 to 2015, nearly 10 per cent of deaths among female veterinarians could be because of suicide.

Deaths caused by suicides are rarer in women than men, but looking at the elevated rate, female veterinarians seem more likely to commit suicide than their co-workers. The researchers believe that male veterinarians were 2.1 times more likely to kill themselves than the normal population whereas female veterinarians were 3.5 times more likely.

Indian scenario

In India too, a number of veterinarians have committed suicide. Vets like Shirley Sara Koshi, who worked in Riverdale, United States, committed suicide after she was apparently harassed about the ownership of a stray cat. Her lawyer confessed that she was in depression, and the lawsuit filed because of the cat worsened the situation.

“It is true that being with and treating animals, and watching them suffer in pain can be depressing, stressful and traumatic. It can affect the veterinarian. However, the doctor will not commit suicide in all cases. I have heard of people in this profession become victims of depression while working in government firms but not private; so it might be related to stress or administrative issues of their respective organisations,” says S Kumar, a senior doctor at V Care pPet Polyclinic, Bengaluru

Also a study Veterinary surgeons and suicide published in the British Medical Journal in 2014, notes that veterinary surgeons have a proportional mortality ratio for suicide approximately four times that of the general population and around twice that of other healthcare professions.

“I know of very few cases in my 35 years of practice. But there have been vets who told me about their depressions and stress-related problems. Thus, this study is something that can be trusted as there are more chances of doctors in this profession slipping into depression,” says RK Suri, a clinical psychologist from New Delhi. 

Factors that could be leading these doctors to suicides include the characteristics of individuals entering the profession, negative effects during undergraduate training, work-related stress, professional and social isolation.

Also, the reasons for developing attitudes to death and euthanasia—the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering—were noted to be formed through the profession’s routine involvement with euthanasia of companion animals and slaughter of farm animals and suicide “contagion” due to direct or indirect exposure to suicide of peers within this small profession.

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