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Risk factors for suicide, attitudes toward mental illness, and practice-related stressors among US veterinarians

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  • 1 Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, CDC, 1600 Clifton Rd, Atlanta, GA 30329.
  • | 2 Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, 1400 Broadway, Cogswell Building, Room B201, Helena, MT 59620.
  • | 3 Department of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849.
  • | 4 Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, CDC, 1600 Clifton Rd, Atlanta, GA 30329.
  • | 5 Minnesota Department of Health, 625 N Robert St, Saint Paul, MN 55164.
  • | 6 Mississippi Board of Animal Health, 121 N Jefferson St, Jackson, MS 39201.
  • | 7 Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, CDC, 1600 Clifton Rd, Atlanta, GA 30329.
  • | 8 Pennsylvania Department of Health, 625 Forster St, Harrisburg, PA 17120.
  • | 9 Wyoming Department of Health, 401 Hathaway Building, Cheyenne, WY 82002.
  • | 10 Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, CDC, 1600 Clifton Rd, Atlanta, GA 30329.
  • | 11 Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, 450 W State St, Boise, ID 83702.
  • | 12 Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, CDC, 1600 Clifton Rd, Atlanta, GA 30329.
  • | 13 Virginia Department of Health, 109 Governor St, PO Box 2448, Ste 516 E, Richmond, VA 23218.
  • | 14 Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, 301 Centennial Mall S, Lincoln, NE 68508.
  • | 15 Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, CDC, 1600 Clifton Rd, Atlanta, GA 30329.
  • | 16 Wyoming Department of Health, 401 Hathaway Building, Cheyenne, WY 82002.
  • | 17 Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, 1400 Broadway, Cogswell Building, Room B201, Helena, MT 59620.
  • | 18 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC, 1600 Clifton Rd, Atlanta, GA 30329.

Abstract

Objective—To evaluate the prevalence of suicide risk factors, attitudes toward mental illness, and practice-related stressors among US veterinarians.

Design—Cross-sectional survey.

Sample—11,627 US veterinarians.

Procedures—Between July 1 and October 20, 2014, a Web-based questionnaire was made available through the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), VIN News Service, JAVMA News, and email messages to US veterinarians sent by a veterinary medical association, agriculture or livestock department, or health department of each state (except Maine) and Puerto Rico.

Results—Of 11,627 respondents, 3,628 (31%) were male. Modal age category was 30 to 39 years, and modal range for years practicing veterinary medicine was 10 to 19 years. There were 7,460 (64%) respondents who primarily practiced small animal medicine, and 4,224 (36%) who were practice owners. There were 1,077 (9%) respondents with current serious psychological distress. Since leaving veterinary school, 3,655 (31%) respondents experienced depressive episodes, 1,952 (17%) experienced suicidal ideation, and 157 (1%) attempted suicide. Currently, 2,228 (19%) respondents were receiving treatment for a mental health condition. Only 3,250 of 10,220 (32%) respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that people are sympathetic toward persons with mental illness. The most commonly reported practice-related stressor was demands of practice.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—In this survey, approximately 1 in 11 veterinarians had serious psychological distress and 1 in 6 experienced suicidal ideation since leaving veterinary school. Implementing measures to help veterinarians cope with practice-related stressors and reducing barriers veterinarians face in seeking mental health treatment might reduce the risk for suicide among veterinarians.

Abstract

Objective—To evaluate the prevalence of suicide risk factors, attitudes toward mental illness, and practice-related stressors among US veterinarians.

Design—Cross-sectional survey.

Sample—11,627 US veterinarians.

Procedures—Between July 1 and October 20, 2014, a Web-based questionnaire was made available through the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), VIN News Service, JAVMA News, and email messages to US veterinarians sent by a veterinary medical association, agriculture or livestock department, or health department of each state (except Maine) and Puerto Rico.

Results—Of 11,627 respondents, 3,628 (31%) were male. Modal age category was 30 to 39 years, and modal range for years practicing veterinary medicine was 10 to 19 years. There were 7,460 (64%) respondents who primarily practiced small animal medicine, and 4,224 (36%) who were practice owners. There were 1,077 (9%) respondents with current serious psychological distress. Since leaving veterinary school, 3,655 (31%) respondents experienced depressive episodes, 1,952 (17%) experienced suicidal ideation, and 157 (1%) attempted suicide. Currently, 2,228 (19%) respondents were receiving treatment for a mental health condition. Only 3,250 of 10,220 (32%) respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that people are sympathetic toward persons with mental illness. The most commonly reported practice-related stressor was demands of practice.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—In this survey, approximately 1 in 11 veterinarians had serious psychological distress and 1 in 6 experienced suicidal ideation since leaving veterinary school. Implementing measures to help veterinarians cope with practice-related stressors and reducing barriers veterinarians face in seeking mental health treatment might reduce the risk for suicide among veterinarians.

Contributor Notes

Dr. Nett's present address is CDC, 1095 Willowdale Rd, MS-2800, Morgantown, WV 26505.

Dr. Vanicek's present address is 96th Medical Group, 307 Boatner Rd, Eglin AFB, FL 32542.

The findings and conclusions of this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the CDC.

The authors thank Malinda Larkin, Phyllis DeGioia, Dr. Lori Kogan, and Dr. Bryan Buss for assistance and the other members of the Veterinarians and Mental Health Investigation Team* for substantial contributions to this study.

Address correspondence to Dr. Nett (rnett@cdc.gov).