Everyone working in the medical profession experiences higher than average suicide rates, but if you work as a vet, that number quadruples.
Horrific suicide rates among vets and the impact hard work can have on their mental health is associated with a devastating shortage in the profession – which particularly affects rural and regional Australia.
The national veterinarian shortage has been widely reported for years, but things got so bad that the federal government last week granted foreign vets special exemptions to come to Australia to fill the urgent need.
The president of the Australian Veterinary Association, Warwick Vale, who became the organization’s chief in May 2020, is fighting to bring down suicide rates.
In his first year on the job, Mr Vale attended the funerals of two of his colleagues – both of whom died by suicide – and said he wrote one letter a month to grieving families who have lost veterinarians by suicide.
Jasmin Klocker, a veterinarian in the Hunter region of New South Wales, wrote a moving letter to the University of Sydney’s Veterinary Education Center (CVE) in March, highlighting the issues many people face.
âThe mental health of the profession is in decline due to the shortage of veterinarians. A combination of fatigue, stressful work, lack of vacations and vets with an unrealistic idea of ââwhat vet work entails is leading to this decline, âshe writes.
âNow that there is such a shortage of vets, as a practice owner I’m torn and almost on the verge of completely selling my store.
âIn the last six months, I have closed a branch and I am selling my main clinic.
âThe big problem is I have a moral problem with this and I think it’s hard to let down the people who have supported both my family and myself for 20 years.
âThe problem is, there is no one to take over.
âThere is no other clinic on the road; this will leave yet another community without a great animal service and extend the next 40-60 minute vet on the verge of insanity as well as they try to take over without enough staff to do so.
Ms Klocker called for better mental health support for vets and a test for college applicants to “build resilience and mental toughness.”
âI haven’t had a break for three years. I can’t do this any longer. Unlike my husband, I will go before it kills me, âshe wrote.
“However, this will leave yet another hole in the profession that cannot afford to lose anyone else.”
Veterans who commit suicide at a rate four times the rate of the general population have been attributed to client abuse, poor mental health, low pay, and their access to deadly drugs and their daily interaction with l ‘euthanasia.
Since July 2000, veterinary drugs have been used in at least 293 suicides in Australia.
Dr Rosie Allister, who runs a 24/7 helpline for UK mental health charity Vetlife, told Vice that access to medicine and euthanasia can have a devastating impact.
“Animal euthanasia is part of our job and always will be,” Dr Allister told the publication in 2018.
âThe idea we talked about is that we sometimes see euthanasia as a positive thing. We see euthanasia as a relief from suffering, as a solution sometimes to intractable problems.
âSo if an animal is really in pain, we can help it by alleviating its suffering. And the argument was that – for vets – then death is normalized as a solution to problems.
While there are a number of studies that either refute or confirm this claim, Dr Allister said that while the evidence is inconclusive, she has relied on her own discussions in the field.
âWhat we do know is that in qualitative research – so when you talk to vets who have experience with suicidal behavior – they often compare themselves to animals. They say things like, âIf I were a dog I would have considered euthanasiaâ when they talk about their own mental health issues, âDr. Allister said.
The Australian Veterinary Association says that common causes of stress in veterinarians include âworking more than 50 hours a week, dealing with difficult clients and problems with interpersonal relationshipsâ can also have an adverse effect on their well-being.
The median salary for a first-year veterinarian is only $ 52,800, which will later rise to $ 84,000.
However, veterinarians in regional areas are generally available 24/7, and see their wages drop significantly compared to massive working hours.
âThe federal award that covers working conditions for veterinarians is totally inappropriate now and out of date,â Dr. Vale says the ABC.
âWe’ve been lobbying for long enough for the federal government to look at the priceâ¦ but we haven’t had much success.
âThe starting salary is way too low; salary increases as they increase their level of experience after graduation must change drastically.
âThe effective rates of pay that appear in this award are one of the lowest paid professions after graduation – up to half the number of dentists, lawyers and doctors.