Veterinarians in multiple countries are estimated to be at higher risk for suicide, compared with the suicide risk for the general population.1–7 Veterinarians from the United Kingdom and 2 western states in Australia had a risk of death by suicide that was 4 times as high as the risk of death by suicide for the general population.1,4 A review of US veterinarian deaths during 1947 to 1977 estimated that white male veterinarians had a risk of death by suicide that was 1.7 times as high as the risk of death by suicide for the general population.2 An analysis of California veterinarian deaths during 1960 to 1992 determined that they had a risk of death by suicide that was 2.6 times as high as that for the general population.5 Similar to other populations, these data potentially underestimate the risk of death by suicide among veterinarians because the reliability of suicide statistics is uncertain.8
Major depression is an established risk factor for suicide.9,10 Nearly 20% of surveyed UK veterinarians reported symptoms consistent with a possible or probable case of depression.11 Australian veterinarians were found to have higher rates of moderate, severe, and extremely severe depression than those of the general population.12 Although studies13–17 have been conducted to investigate the psychological well-being of US veterinary students, data for assessing the prevalence of depression among US veterinarians are more limited.6 A survey of 701 veterinarians licensed in Alabama during 2008 revealed that 66% of respondents had experienced clinical depression since beginning veterinary school.16
The stigma associated with mental illness often prevents people from seeking effective mental health treatment and is a risk factor for suicide.18,19 Similar to other health professionals,20 veterinarians might perceive high levels of stigma associated with mental illness.1 Unfortunately, data for assessing how US veterinarians perceive the stigma of mental illness or mental health treatment are scarce.
Work-related stressors can lead to job burnout, which is a prolonged psychological response to ongoing emotional and interpersonal occupational stressors associated with exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of ineffectiveness.21 A current understanding of work-related stressors experienced by US veterinarians is important because occupational stress has been associated with depression,22,23 and psychosocial factors in the workplace can influence suicidal behaviors.11,24 A cross-sectional survey of 572 US female veterinarians conducted in the early 1990s revealed that two-thirds of respondents experienced at least the beginnings of burnout syndrome.25 During 2008, 21 of 22 executive directors of state veterinary medical associations believed increased stress had been placed on veterinarians in the previous 10 years and that there is a serious problem with burnout.16
The purpose of the study reported here was to assess the prevalence of risk factors for suicide, attitudes toward mental illness, and practice-related stressors among US veterinarians. These data were needed to further characterize the proportion of US veterinarians who might be at higher risk for suicide, identify potential barriers to seeking mental health treatment among veterinarians, and describe common practice-related stressors so that appropriate and targeted prevention measures can be developed.
Veterinary Information Network
The questionnaire is available from the author on request.
Qualtrics Research Suite, Qualtrics, Provo, Utah.
SAS Enterprise Guide, version 5.1, SAS Institute Inc, Cary, NC.
OpenEpi, Emory University, Atlanta, Ga.
Bourdet-Loubere S. Study of links between suicidal behaviour, reasons for living, anxiety and depression in a sample of 94 veterinary surgeons. MS thesis, University of Toulouse II-Mirial, Toulouse, France, 2006.
In addition to the authors, other members of the Veterinarians and Mental Health Investigation Team include Dr. Dee W. Jones, Dr. Louisa Castrodale, Dr. Robert Gerlach, Vicki Smith, Dr. Laura Adams, Ken Komatsu, Dr. Susan Weinstein, Valerie Fenstermaker, Dr. Curtis L. Fritz, Dr. Jennifer A. House, Dr. Randall S. Nelson, Coreen M. Haggerty, Dr. Carina Blackmore, Dr. Julie Gabel, Dr. Eric Ako, Dr. Sarah Y. Park, Peter Weber, Dr. Jen Brown, Lisa Perius, Dr. Ann Garvey, Dr. David Schmitt, Dr. Ingrid C. Trevino-Garrison, Dr. John W. Poe, Dr. Gary A. Balsamo, Dr. Katherine A. Feldman, Dr. Jan Ginsky, Dr. Catherine M. Brown, Susan G. Curtis, Karlene Belyea, Dr. Joni Scheftel, Richard Antweiler, Julie Braun, Dr. Howard L. Pue, Dr. Martin Zaluski, Michelle Wagner, Dr. Abigail Mathewson, Dr. Colin T. Campbell, Dr. Paul Ettestad, Dr. Alexandra Newman, Dr. Carl Williams, Dr. Susan Keller, Tracy Thomas, Dr. Joanne Midla, Jana Black, Dr. Kristy K. Bradley, Dr. Emilio Debess, Charlene Wandzilak, Dr. Brenda Rivera-Garcia, Betsy Grenier, Dr. Scott Marshall, Dr. Stephanie W. Cox, Dr. Russ Daly, Dr. Heather Henderson, Chris Copeland, Dr. Tom J. Sidwa, Dr. Mark Rishniw, Dr. Warren Hess, Dr. Erica Berl, Dr. Paul D. Pion, Dr. Ron Wohrle, Candice Joy, Dr. Miguella Mark-Carew, Dr. James J. Kazmierczak, and Dr. Jim Logan.
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