- An Online Group Is There To Listen And Help
Dr. Carrie Jurney is on the board of an online organization that works to prevent suicides. It's called Not One More Vet.
This isn't a mental health support group for veterans — it's for veterinarians.
Veterinarians are killing themselves in alarming numbers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found male vets are 2.1 times as likely and female vets 3.5 times as likely to die by suicide compared with the general population. The much higher rate for women is especially concerning as more than 60% of vets are women.
"I had 86 people in my vet school class," Jurney says. "Graduating class of 2005. Three of them are gone. Died by their own hand."
There's a lot of stress in being a vet. First, there's the financial pressure to pay off a pricey medical school education — recent graduates are often more than $140,000 in debt. And the median pay for a veterinarian in the United States is about $94,000 a year, which is good, but less than half of that for physicians and surgeons.
Then there's the emotional strain. Any given day in a veterinary clinic can swing between scenes of elation and anxiety.
Vets deal with disease, disability and death on a daily basis: "our average Monday morning," as Jurney puts it.
"It's a very isolating profession. The hours are long. I can't tell you how many dinners with friends I've been late to or just missed entirely because a case comes in that needs me right now," she says. "I've missed my own birthday dinner."
Many veterinarians practice alone, and sometimes they are the only one practicing for hundreds of miles, making it hard to take time off.
It's a natural profession for introverts, says Dr. Nicole McArthur of Rocklin, Calif., the founder of Not One More Vet.
"We're drawn to animals and then having to do a job where we are working with people," McArthur says. "The animals don't drive themselves here; they don't pay the bills."
Those people are often grieving, often angry.
Both doctors say veterinarians they know have been targets of online trolling and threats from pet owners, and even strangers, who blame them for the death of a much-loved animal. In February 2014, Shirley Koshi, a vet in New York City, took her own life after a cyberbullying campaign against her.
McArthur has quit her profession twice. "I had a day that I was working emergency and had three euthanasias within a 30-minute time span and they were all very emotional," she says. "One I thought I was going to have to call in a welfare check to have police go make sure this person was OK. And yeah, I walked out. I was like, 'That's it. I'm done.' "
Veterinarian support and sounding board
Vets also have access to lethal medicines. It's part of the job.
"It's not a big leap to say, 'I'm a veterinarian who has chronic pain and I have chronic depression and my clinic is underwater and there's no end in sight,' " McArthur says. "And this is a kind of death that we can give ourselves. I get it. I totally get it. I've been there."
Vets who kill themselves are 2.5 times more likely than the general population to have used pharmaceuticals as the method.
The CDC notes that factors including issues Jurney and McArthur talk about — the debt, the long hours, the stress, the access to lethal drugs — put veterinarians at a high risk of suicide compared with the general population.
McArthur and Jurney's group, Not One More Vet, tries to give veterinarians support and a sounding board for the stresses of their work. The Facebook group boasts more than 18,000 members.
It's not professional mental health support, but rather "a large group of veterinarians who totally understand where you are coming from," as NOMV says. "We are here to listen, commiserate, and give each other a shoulder, an ear, and a bit of advice when needed."
Testimonials on the group's blog point to the impact of reaching out and of group support in tough times.
Though McArthur quit her profession twice, she came back because she loved it, she says. Many vets say that despite the challenges, "I love what I do."
We will never know the haunted thoughts that drives a veterinarian, or anyone to take their own life. If you, or someone you know, may be contemplating suicide, seek out a support group, a mental health professional or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Condensed from NPR.org/2019/09/07