Veterinarians at higher risk for suicide

Dealing with death on regular basis one of main factors

GENESEE COUNTY — Veterinarians are at an “increased risk” for suicide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Approximately 400 veterinarians died by suicide between 1979 and 2015, according to a CDC study. Seventy-five percent worked in small animal practice.

Chris Repke, veterinarian and owner of Point Animal Hospital in Fenton said he’s not surprised by this.

In 2017, of the 110,531 veterinarians in the U.S, 66,731 were female and 43,662 were male. Female veterinarians are 3.5 times as likely and male veterinarians were 2.1 times as likely to die from suicide compared to the general population.

Since 2000, the number of female veterinarian suicide deaths was stable at 10 percent, but the number has been increasing steadily.

While experts say there isn’t one cause for suicide, the everyday job of a veterinarian differs from a normal 9-5 office job.

“It’s different from some other businesses with our connection to death. It’s a regular part of our day. We’re just exposed to it a lot more frequently than a plumber or accountant,” he said.

The most stressful part is seeing the effect on pet owners when they must put down an animal.

“It’s sad but everyone knows it’s a necessary thing. It’s hard doing that when maybe the owner is 80 years old and their wife or husband is gone and their pet is their primary companion,” he said.

Another factor could be the cost of pet care and costly surgeries. In 2018, Americans spent more than $72 billion on their pets, and more than $18 billion was for vet care, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA).

Some pet owners become upset with the veterinarians and vet techs over money. A 2014 survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found one in five veterinarians were either cyber-bullied by pet owners, who write mean reviews online or threaten their business, or knew a colleague who experienced this.

Repke said there will always be people who complain about cost, but they focus on providing value.

“Holidays come around, and the economy has been okay but not great. Times are tight for some people and money is a concern so you just manage that the best you can,” he said.

According to a 2014 survey by the CDC, of more than 11,000 U.S. veterinarians, approximately 9 percent had current serious psychological distress, 31 percent had experienced depressive episodes, and 17 percent had experienced suicidal ideation since leaving veterinary school.

Repke said he doesn’t go out of his way to talk about mental health with his employees, but they’re avid readers and talk about these topics when they come up in the news.

“It’s a tough conversation to broach with people. Providing a work environment where people want to come to work and enjoy the people they work with is probably one of the best things you can do, then it won’t be so stressful,” he said.