An op-ed piece submitted to TVG Volume 51, Issue 1 by John Francis
One topic that doesn’t get discussed enough: suicide and veterinary medicine. It has come a long way. We still don’t talk about this issue enough publicly; hopefully you will take the time to read this article. Compare notes with your colleagues about my opinions and start more discussions. You can never really know who among us is struggling with depression (1 in 6 vets have contemplated suicide) and sometimes just starting a conversation with someone can help. It has been well published that talking about suicide does not increase the risk of someone attempting suicide. Most of that research is from the military; I have a lot of experience with military suicide. Throughout this article I will draw comparisons, but I am not an expert, I have no formal training, these are solely the opinions in my head. I would love someone to respond with theirs or in corroboration of mine. This is an attempt to get the ball rolling.
My own personal experience with suicide came in 2005 when my uncle, a Marine, struggling with PTS died by suicide before his second tour to Iraq. Re-read that sentence. There are a few key points that I bet you missed. I used the term “PTS” to mean Post Traumatic Stress, I left out “disorder” intentionally. It has negative connotations and is being phased out. The next aspect of that sentence is “died by suicide.” I could have just as easily typed “committed suicide,” but that would be wrong. There is too much deliberation in the word committed when we know suicide is often not a conscious act. Again, I am not an expert, but my family members are and even run some of the largest non-profit organizations to help veterans and their families affected by PTS and suicide.
So now what about Veterinary Medicine and suicide. What about our profession has led to our current state of affairs. Money is an obvious starting point, but maybe not completely the way a lay person would think. I don’t mean entirely the debt side or the running a successful business part. Both can cause extreme stress situations and lead to depression. But that’s not exclusive to vet medicine, it shouldn’t be ignored, but I don’t know enough about those yet to say any more. I would love a reader with more experience to elaborate those two points and their own stress relieving techniques. I want to touch upon a different monetary concern among vets. Client satisfaction.
I have worked as a small and large animal technician at hospitals and for doctors that have served the poorest pets in trailer parks to the most expensive sport horse ever purchased (I kid you not, but don’t ask for names). What is one thing all people will