Group of vets battles ‘staggering’ statistics on suicide deaths in the profession
If you are a vet with depression, there is an international group that wants to help you out and also wants the general public to understand the types of challenges vets face.
Not One More Vet (NOMV) began in 2014 with the suicide death of Sophia Yin, a prominent California-based veterinarian and author. Its mission was to de-stigmatize mental health problems in veterinarians and to offer help.
It has grown rapidly – NOMV is now active in dozens of countries – because the need is great. The organization said veterinarians are 2.5 times more likely than the general public to die by suicide. One in ten have considered suicide, along with one in five veterinary technicians, NOMV reported.
“The statistics are quite staggering,” said Dr. Lesley Steele, member of NOMV and owner of several veterinary clinics in the Maritimes. Island morning host Mitch Cormier.
“Someone you know and potentially work with on a daily basis has thought about suicide.”
Debt, long hours and unrealistic expectations
The special challenge of being a veterinarian begins with graduation.
New graduates can have hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and the profession they take on will often pay only enough to cover loan repayments and a basic lifestyle.
It can become crippling if they face unforeseen expenses, Steele said.
And the work itself is under a lot of pressure.
People take care of their pets as family and come to vets with high and sometimes unrealistic expectations, Steele said.
“Vets are sometimes accused of not caring when they present a bill or charges to clients that are more than what the client can afford,” she said.
“Use language like ‘You don’t care’ or ‘My pet is going to die because you don’t care’. We are human beings. We take this home with us at night. We take this home and bring it to bed with us at night. “
“ Terrible, inappropriate and often untrue things ”
In recent years, Steele said, social media has become another issue; a way for unhappy customers to take their frustrations out in public.
Vets aren’t the only profession attacked on social media, but they have the added frustration of not being able to defend themselves due to client privacy rules.
“Terrible, inappropriate and often untrue things can be said about vets, and we don’t have the capacity to tell our side of the story,” Steele said.
“All of these things together, you know, with a job that we often work around the clock. If we’re going to be on call duty and providing emergency services, it all comes at a price.”
New approaches at university
This is a problem that has been recognized at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown and is being addressed directly.
“While I recognize that we have great challenges, I also see that we have come a long way,” said Dr. Heather Gunn MacQuillan, assistant dean of clinical and professional programming at AVC.
“I remember when I went to this school this thing was not discussed at all.”
And they do more than tell AVC about it. The resolution of the problem was integrated directly into the program.
Students take classes to help them cope with the financial realities they will face upon graduation, how to communicate effectively with clients, how to build resilience, and how and when to seek help when these strategies fail.
‘I walked in the shoes of depression’
MacQuillan teaches his students the voice of experience.
“One of the reasons I’m passionate about veterinary wellness is that I’ve been there,” she said.
“I walked under my depression skin and used mindfulness and self-care tools. I give lectures on this and I am very open with it. I teach in a vulnerable place because I think it’s important for my students to know that it’s not just rainbows and puppies, that the reality of veterinary medicine is that it is difficult and difficult and that you are going to have many, many dark days.
While teaching resilience is important, Steele said, it’s also important to stress that there comes a time when customer behavior is just not acceptable.
“I have been practicing since 1997 and I can tell you there has definitely been a change in expectations,” Steele said. “We have the right to demand respect and better treatment from customers.”
Anyone in need of emotional support, crisis intervention or problem-solving assistance in Prince Edward Island can contact The Island Helpline at 1-800-218-2885, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
For more information on mental health services in Prince Edward Island, see Health PEI resources here, or Prince Edward Island Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association here.