Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Suicide Prevention And Awareness

A Report From The Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association State Meeting

By Dr. Jim Humphries
Founder: Veterinary News Network
Founder: American Society of Veterinary Journalists
Adjunct Professor of Media and Communications
Texas A&M University

I recently spoke at the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association and attended a fascinating one hour overview of suicide awareness and prevention. At first glance you may think this is a very curious topic, however you will be surprised to learn that physicians and dentists are twice as likely to take their own life as the general public. However, it is alarming to discover that veterinarians are FOUR times as likely to take their own life as the general public.

This came very close to home last month when I learned that one of our very early VNN members had committed suicide just a few months ago. I thought it would take this time to raise our awareness on this crucial topic as our profession seems to be extraordinarily affected.  Further, VNN members are leaders and we must be aware of our role in awareness and prevention as it is likely we have a colleague close to us dealing with depression or worse. 

There is a suicide every 39 seconds, that’s 1 million a year worldwide or 38,000 per year in the United States alone.  To put that in perspective that’s 105 per day and there is a suicide attempt every 32 seconds. Oddly enough there are more suicides that occur in rural areas and may believe people in rural areas have less connection to helpful resources.  In Minnesota alone there was a 15% increase from 2010 to 2011.  Among people 15 to 34 years of age it is the second leading cause of death and for young people 10 to 14 years of age it is the third leading cause of death. And interestingly only 20% leave a note, and females try four times more often but males are four times more successful at suicide.

There are many theories as to why veterinarians are four times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Veterinarians are typically perfectionists, we are very busy, we deal with pets who are increasingly seen as family members, and often have to put these animals to sleep and deal with those strong emotions.  We work with increasing caseloads, we have very few resources for dealing with stress, and many veterinarians feel isolated and isolation is one of the biggest causes for suicide in all people. Add to that economic stress and/or chronic disease and pain and you have the formula for depression and suicide.

The majority of suicide victims do not want to die. There is ambivalence right up to the time of death. Most say they simply want to “the pain to go away”.  We all need to be aware of the signs of a person who has suicidal ideation.  In this way we can get them to talk and perhaps find them some help.  90% of suicides are treatable and practically every person with suicidal thoughts will talk about ending their life. Often the talk is about hopelessness and feeling trapped, unbearable pain and being a burden to others.  With this as a clue you should ask properly worded questions such as; “Do you just want to die?”, “Are you thinking about being dead?”. If you sense there is a problem, don’t leave them alone if at all possible.  Try to surround them with some support. 

We live in interesting and very stressful times.  Only 45% of students graduating from veterinary school have a job, and all of them have an average of $150,000 in student debt.  Our young colleagues are starting with a very stressful life.  Let’s do what we can to help them communicate, with family with clients and with you. This means teaching them to get more comfortable with face-to-face communications rather than staring at a screen on their smart phone or on a computer at work. This is also essential in communicating with your clients. But further teaches them how to handle the stress life brings them, in addition to finding joy in the work we all love so much.

An outstanding resource is www.SAVE.org.  there you can find any number of resources for suicide prevention and depression information.  If you find yourself in a crisis situation the 800 number to call is 1-800-273-8255. 

Here are some interesting links:

Know The Warning Signs

Brochures And Resources



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