Friday, 14 December 2012

A serious one.......The Veterinary Profession...Thoughts of Suicide anyone

I was having a conversation with a not long qualified veterinary surgeon today about the recent coverage of high suicide rates in the profession. 'Apparently this profession has the highest suicide rate in the UK' I said,
'Really I thought it was dentists?'
'Apparently not, I can't think why can you!.'

She later took her dog for a walk, and on her return said 'I've been thinking about what you said earlier, and I added up in my head everyone on my course and came to the conclusion over a quarter had some form of 'mental problems' either it being self harm, food related issues or more extreme.'

This got me thinking more about it and our conclusion was that to come into the profession initially you probably have to be slightly 'mad' to enter into it. No seriously the more we thought the more we concluded you probably have to be slightly on the 'Spectrum', to fall into the profession of veterinary surgeon, you have to be that academically driven that it leaves you open to everything that comes with that. Psychologically its a hard profession to deal with, the hours are hard and the emotional drain is intense to say the least. It's not heaps different for nurses, we can still take the academic university route and we get fully engrossed with the cases and intensity that comes with that. Anxiety is another big factor, low salaries and professional mistakes all play their roles.

I found out that statistically, it’s twice the suicide rate of doctors and dentists, and four times the rate amongst the general population. Considering the size of the profession these statistics are quite high. At a personal level, it means that almost every vet knows a close colleague who has chosen to end his or her own life. Recent research suggests that veterinary surgeons report high levels of psychological distress.

Bartram, the expert in Britain, wrote in a March 2010 article in Risk Management Monitor, Bartram offered these possible explanations:

• Those admitted to veterinary school have high-achieving personality types, traits of which may include neurosis, conscientiousness and perfectionism.
• Stress begins during training and continues in practice, with a work environment marked by long hours, high psychological demands, potentially low support from managers and high expectations by clients. Solo practitioners may be professionally and socially isolated.
• Practitioners have ready access to lethal drugs and know how to use them.
• Veterinarians philosophically accept euthanasia as a way to alleviating suffering.

• Exposure to suicides among colleagues may result in “suicide contagion.”

Bartram has published two studies about the high risk of suicide among veterinary surgeons in Britain compared with the general population. The first, “Veterinary surgeons and suicide: influences, opportunities and research directions,” appeared January 2008 in Veterinary Record. Bartram’s research indicates that every year, five or six of Britain’s 16,000 veterinary surgeons kill themselves.

In a recent review of the international literature on the subject, Belinda Platt of the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford University and colleagues found research pointing to significantly elevated rates of suicide among veterinarians in Australia, Belgium, Norway and the United States as well as in the United Kingdom.

In their paper, “
Suicidal behaviour and psychosocial problems in veterinary surgeons: a systematic review,” published online Dec. 23 in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, Blatt and colleagues referenced six studies examining veterinary populations in the United States that found elevated suicide rates.

Results of the oxford study:
Self-poisoning was the most common method used or considered by participants. Common contributory factors were workplace relationships, career concerns, patient issues, number of hours and volume of work, and responsibility, although two-thirds of participants reported co-occurring difficult life events. Around half had received a psychiatric diagnosis following their suicidal behaviour. Several possible preventive measures were suggested by participants.
Several work- and non-work-related contributory factors to suicidally in the veterinary profession were identified. Future preventive measures may involve better promotion of support services, formal support for recent graduates, and improving employers' attitudes toward work-life balance.

So there's a lot of research around the subject, and its an ongoing matter. From a personal point of view, although not from a surgeon point of view it is a gruelling profession at times, long hours, for little pay with tough decisions to be made on a daily basis. I'm not saying that other professions don't suffer the same problems but it seems like there's less support in daily practice to other professions. I agree with the research and I believe it takes a certain person to come into the profession which is obviously a high contributory factor but I think there's a lot more to it than that.
So spare a little thought for what we go through and if you're in the profession lets support each other as best we can but if you notice a problem with an individual seek help before it escalates.

Further reading: - The recent oxford university research.

Veterinary surgeons and suicide: a structured review of possible influences on increased risk,” published March 2010 in Veterinary Record.

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