Within Australia a vet will suicide approximately every 12 weeks.
In the period from 1990 to 2002, 11 vets in Victoria and Western Australia took their own lives. The rates of suicide for vets in Victoria and Western Australia are estimated to be 3.8 times and 4.0 times respectively, the age-standardised rate for suicide in the adult populations of their respective states. Further, it was reported that for two states within Australia, vets had a suicide rate of 45 per 100,000-person-years, which is roughly four times the general population rate within these two states.
The former coordinator of the OneLife Suicide Prevention Project for the Western Australian division of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), Dr Brian McErlean, reported the following statistics for vets within Australia, with a comparison to the general population figures provided in brackets:
• depression — mild to severe = 25% (20%)
• depression — extremely severe = 3.9% (2%)
• work-related burnout = 35.8% (20%)
In the United Kingdom, rates of suicide have been reported at least three times the general population rate, with the most common methods used being firearms and self-poisoning. In the five-year period from 1994 to 1998, pharmacists, farmers, physicians, and dentists had up to twice the expected rate of suicide as the general population (using the proportional mortality ratio, or PMR), with the highest rate attributed to vets at more than three times the PMR.
Statistics reported from England and Wales found that for the period 1979 to 1990, 35 out of 383 vet deaths were attributed to suicide. Gender differences were reported whereby one in every four female deaths was the result of suicide. For the period 1991 to 2000, there was reportedly approximately one suicide for every 11 deaths in male vets, and one in every six deaths for female vets.
In the United States, recent research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded that when compared to the general population in the United States, female veterinarians were 3.5 times as likely and male veterinarians were 2.1 times as likely to suicide.
Similar statistics have also been reported in New Zealand, with the New Zealand Veterinary Association stating that the vet profession worldwide is one of the leading professions in suicide rates.
In 2012, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association reported that 19 per cent of member respondents to a survey had seriously thought about suicide, with 9 percent having previously made an attempt on their life. Twenty-seven per cent reported that they took anti-depressants.
While the total number of vets as an occupation is relatively small and the actual number of suicides within this profession are low, an alarming 43% of veterinarian deaths was due to suicide with 41.8 to 52.6 veterinarians per 100,000 worldwide ending their life through suicide.
It is clear that when compared with the general population and other occupations, vets are at a significantly higher risk of suicide. Even the most qualified and passionate vets are at risk.
Clearly this is a serious issue and something needs to be done about it - I'm doing my bit, but are you doing yours? If you'd like to know how you can help to raise awareness and try to reduce the rates of suicide within this profession, please get in touch!
About Dr Nadine Hamilton
As a leading authority on veterinary wellbeing, Dr Hamilton helps veterinary professionals get on top of stress and conflict to avoid burnout and suicide, and also works with practice managers and owners to increase wellbeing, productivity, and retention in the workplace. Additionally, she provide workshops to small and large groups within the private and corporate sectors, and speaks at conferences and symposiums both nationally and internationally.
Her book "Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian - An Evidence-Based Solution to Increase Wellbeing" was released in March 2019 through Australian Academic Press, and is already making a positive impact within the profession - both here in Australia and internationally.
As an advocate for the veterinary profession, Dr Hamilton founded the charity "Love Your Pet Love Your Vet" and partnered with Royal Canin to reduce stigma in veterinary professionals seeking help, raising awareness within the community about the realities of working in the profession, and providing psychological and educational support to veterinary professionals.