Study shows veterinarian suicide rates are shockingly high

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GOLDEN TRIANGLE, Miss. (WCBI) – Everybody experiences stress.

It’s no secret that some jobs are more stressful than others.

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A shocking study from the CDC showed that one in every six veterinarians had considered suicide.

Additional studies from the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association state that vets are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

Area animal doctors and psychologists said they are working to bring those numbers down.

“It builds up, and it builds up, and it builds up, and you experience a severe burnout, that’s basically what they’re calling it. It’s a severe depressive episode, and sometimes that episode can lead to suicide,” said Dr. Karen Emerson.

Emerson started the Emerson Animal Hospital in West Point five years ago. She said opening up her own practice was one of the hardest things she’s ever done.

“When I opened up my own personal business, I had to learn to be the business owner, the HR manager, veterinarian, which is composed of just being a veterinarian, guys. It’s the anesthesiologist, it’s the dentist, it’s the surgeon, it’s the internal medicine doctor, it’s also the one that deals with all the finances at the end, the accountant,” said Emerson.

Running a business costs money.

Well-meaning residents who drop off strays don’t realize it’s the doctor who ends up paying for their care.

“Everything you do comes out of your pocket. They know you’re supposed to love and have compassion for animals. That is one of the hardest things as a veterinarian, I think, is to be able to communicate with that client and let them know I love that animal, but I also have to survive,” said Emerson.

Psychologist Pauline Prince said it’s not all about business, though. In fact, a large portion of the job can be emotional.

“They are also dealing with the loss of this animal, despite their best efforts. So, they have to deal with their own emotion with that, then walk in and tell a family who just lost this pet. So, they’re really at what they’ve been trained to do, which is deal with this medical situation, but as far as communicating that to someone else, that’s a little bit a skill development that needs to happen,” said Prince.

Dr. Prince is currently working with students at the Mississippi State University vet school to combat the issue before those students strike out on their own.

“It’s not just about veterinary medicine. It’s how do I give you the skill sets to deal with the emotions of this career, the fatigue of this career… How do I help you remember that you need to take care of yourself in order to take care of others, including their animals,” said Prince.

“That is the hardest decision. When a client looks at you and asks you ‘what would you do’ that is the hardest question as a veterinarian,” said Emerson.

Dr. Emerson said at the end of the day, it’s all about communication and asking for help when you need it.

“What my goal is, is to get to the point before that. To give them an opportunity to have someone to reach out to because when I first opened my practice five years ago, I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to… I think now is the time to address it, to have a plan of action, and let’s put that plan together and do it and save veterinarians because lord knows we need them,” said Emerson.

According to the CDC, 60% of Veterinarians are women. 10% of the female vets who have died since the year 2000 have died by suicide.

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