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September issue /2021

Why is the suicidal rate increasing among the veterinary community?

Recent data show, that depending on gender, veterinarians are predisposed to a suicide rate of 1.6 to 2.4 times higher than the general population, and veterinary nurses to a rate of 2.3 to 5 times higher. Younger female veterinarians are known to have a higher rate.

These data are truly troubling, and make us wonder why this is happening. Why in our profession?

I want to think that the great majority of veterinarians chose this profession because they wanted to fulfill a dream that they have had since they were children. In us and in the population in general, the illusion is created that our profession is one of the most beautiful in the world, because we live with the most wonderful beings that exist. This last part is undoubtedly true, and as a veterinarian I have undoubtedly had this privilege.

But what goes on behind the scenes? What turns this dream profession into a nightmare?

I think that veterinarians and vet-nurses are gifted with an altruism, a love and passion for their profession that is a rarity in the professional world.

The extreme dedication to patients, the excessive workload, the endless night shifts, the lack of sleep quality, the lack of balance between personal life and profession, the lack of time for adequate meal time schedule, the non-performance of physical activity, dealing with situations of loss and suffering on a daily basis, the easy access to opioid drugs and anesthetics, among others, are factors that explain this frightening rate.

I also think that society in general does not respect or understand our profession. When they seek a veterinary doctor, they want to get answers on the spot and solutions on the spot, as fast as it gets. The opposite of what happens in human medicine. They make us feel that we have a non-ending obligation to help all the animals, by any means, making us sometimes even economically responsible for all medical care the animal requires, when they don't have the financial conditions to take care of the animal itself.

Another typical example, is when a “good soul” finds an animal on the street and wants to “dump” the animal on the clinic, expecting us to assume all the responsibility. This psychological, emotional and financial pressure is so often put on our shoulders, because after all, we above all love our patients. But are we really the only ones responsible for them?

What can we do to help? How can we increase resilience in the veterinary world?

The signs of depression and burnout cannot be ignored, not only by the professional concerned, but also by all the staff around him, his family and friends. It is important that in difficult situations the veterinarian feels supported, not only in his professional environment, but also within his family. Colleagues should be the first to turn to, because we have all been through similar situations, we have all suffered the loss of an animal, we have all heard the harsh words of a guardian...

It is important to recognize these signs in ourselves and in our colleagues, and we should always look for health professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists, who can help us find our way back to well-being and happiness. We don't have to be ashamed for feeling this way, ever.

Our resilience is built mostly on a balance between the positive things in our life and the negative things. We cannot save every patient that comes to us, nor can we accept every situation in a passive and calm way. We are human beings with feelings and emotions, not robots with microchips with only our rational part working. So, let's celebrate the happy moments, hugging and kissing that wonderful puppy, the baby kitten that purrs like a tractor, let's celebrate the animals we save their life, let's cultivate the celebration of positivity, which will be the battery we will need in the negative moments.

Let's find a balance between our family life and friends, with our work. Let's take time to take care of ourselves! Yes, because if we don't take care of ourselves, no one will. Healing begins within us! We have to eat a balanced diet, take nutritional supplements, do regular physical exercise (studies guarantee that 6 hours a week is essential), let's take care of our self-esteem, prioritize quality sleep, since sleep is fundamental to recharge our batteries, etc. But above all, let's stop when we feel on the edge and seek professional help and/or help together with our colleagues, friends, and family. It is important to realize that we are not alone.

What innovative and technological measures have emerged over time?

In October 2014, after the suicide of Dr. Sophia Yin, known for her magnificent work in animal behavior, a private Facebook group was created by Dr. Nicole McArthur, whose goal was to create a private platform where veterinarians could talk openly about their lives and support each other. Currently the "Not One More Vet" group has about 27,000 members, and at this time has expanded and provides financial support and mental health support for veterinary professionals.

In 2019, Dr. Andy Roark encouraged the implementation of the "4-Eyes" program in veterinary centers with the goal of reducing this rate. This program was intended to ensure that no one could access controlled substances alone. There was a study that showed that the most commonly used drug by veterinarians was pentobarbital and by nurses, opioids. So, this program can really help save lives.

In the last year telemedicine and teleconsulting have become a presence in healthcare, not only in human medicine, but also in veterinary medicine. Through teleconsulting it has become possible to get the opinion of a human doctor or a veterinary specialist regardless of geographic location, overcoming the elitization of medicine concentrated only in large metropolitan centers. In veterinary medicine this technology is evolving more slowly, but I believe that through this globalization of excellence veterinary care, we will be able to combat social isolation, depression, extreme fatigue, and lack of quality sleep associated with the most complex and delicate clinical cases. Also, think about starting to perform telemedicine, attending your clients from the comfort of your home, allowing in this manner a better time management, which will automatically improve your quality of life, your family time and your work life quality..

We must always think that we may not change the world, but we can always change someone's world, with a gesture, a word or a look! And there is no more rewarding feeling than this!

Yours always,

Filipa Bernardino
CEO Vetexpertise