Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why do so many veterinarians commit suicide?

By Sy Montgomery Globe Correspondent September 19, 2016


It’s hard to think of many people in our lives more important, more integral, or more venerated than our veterinarians. To those of us who love animals, veterinary medicine is one of the world’s noblest professions.

So it was with shock and dismay that I learned that veterinarians suffer alarmingly high rates of depression and suicide.

“It’s a big problem,” says Stephanie Kube, a veterinary neurologist and pain pathologist at Veterinary Neurology and Pain Management Center of New England in Walpole. “The profession is truly plagued.”

A 2014 federal Centers for Disease Control online survey of 10,000 practicing veterinarians published last year found that more than one in six American veterinarians has considered suicide. Veterinarians suffer from feelings of hopelessness, depression, and other psychiatric disorders two to three times more often than the general population. Two studies published in the British Veterinarian Association’s journal, The Veterinary Record, found suicide rates are double or more those of dentists and doctors, and four to six times higher than the general population.


A good Samaritan had rescued a sick cat from a nearby park, and brought him to Koshi, owner of Gentle Hands Veterinary Clinic in Riverdale. Koshi treated the animal and adopted him. Weeks later, a woman appeared, demanding Koshi give her the cat. She claimed the cat was hers because she left food for him, and a number of other cats who roamed the public park. The woman sued; angry demonstrators picketed Koshi’s office; organized hate groups attacked the vet online. Koshi, 55, killed herself at her home.


“Most of our clients are awesome, and we love them. But all sorts of people have pets,” Kube says. Some adopt or rescue pets who can’t take care of them. Some want healthy pets put down. Some pet owners have emotional disabilities. Some are too financially strapped to pay for veterinary care. “And some think vets will do everything for free, because we love animals,” Kube says. “And we do — but we can’t.” Many veterinarians, she mentioned, carry huge debt from vet school, which can cost as much or more than medical school. But most veterinarians will earn less than a third what doctors and dentists do, mainly because they charge less and don’t get reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance. (Pet insurance does exist, but few people have it.)

Yet veterinarians have to witness, and often assist, in the healer’s most wrenching moment, far more often than doctors. “Many of our patients die during our career,” my vet, Dr. Chuck DeVinne of Animal Care Clinic in Peterborough, N.H., told me — simply because companion animals’ lives are shorter than humans.


Vets encounter death frequently, along with some moral issues doctors never face. Consider the vet who needs to counsel an owner forced to choose between a costly operation for their pet or sending their kid to college — or worse, a vet who operates on a pet who despite good care still dies.

When things go wrong, veterinarians take it hard. “Many veterinarians have devoted everything they’ve got to their profession,” says DeVinne.

When these stresses combine with long working hours and on-call pressures, it’s easy to see how anyone could melt down. And because vets can offer gentle deaths to their patients with euthanasia, they may see death as a way out of pain. All of them have easy access to drugs that can kill.


“Educating the public is a first step” to healing these animal healers, Kube says. I urge you to do as I do when I bring my puppy in for a visit: Tell your vet — and their staff — that you’re grateful for what they do.

No comments:

Post a Comment