Suicide Awareness + Prevention

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September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and last week (September 6-12) marked National Suicide Prevention Week. Those who follow social media saw many reminders of this important mental health crisis from other practices and organized veterinary medicine. Heart + Paw has patiently waited to add to the posts as we know the severity of this crisis is especially alarming in our profession and requires constant awareness year-round. 

The CDC has studied the rise in suicides in our profession and reports that female veterinarians were 3.5 times as likely, and male veterinarians were 2.1 times as likely, to die from suicide as the general population. 75% of the veterinarians who died by suicide worked in small animal practice. We also are starting to see studies showing this increase in suicide mortality exists for veterinary technicians and others that dedicate their professional careers to caring for animals. Some reasons include the emotional demands of the profession (wide daily emotional swings from happy puppy visits to euthanasia or the isolation of feeling that you are often alone in handing impossible challenges), long hours creating poor work/life balance, financial burdens with high debt and pay ranges lower than human health care providers, and finally that we are trained to end suffering so when we experience depression or suicidal thoughts we know how to do it. 

How can we prevent suicide in our profession? 

  1. Keep informed on the topic and seek to understand the challenges the profession faces. The National Institute of Mental Health is a great resource and much of the following is from them. 
  2. Learn to recognize signs that someone is thinking about suicide (talking about wanting to die, talking about feelings of despair or hopelessness, great guilt or shame, talking about being a burden to others, withdrawing from others, showing rage or talking about seeking revenge, increased risky behavior, extreme mood swings, giving away important possession, talking or thinking about death, saying goodbye to people). If you notice these signs, seek help as soon as possible especially if the behavior is new or increased.
  3. ASK: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”, if you are worried about asking, realize that studies show asking this question does not increase suicides.
  4. Keep Them Safe: Asking the at-risk person if she/he has a plan then removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
  5. Be There: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling.
  6. Help Them Connect: Add the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s phone (1-800-273-8255) and the Crisis Text line’s number (741741) in your phone so you have it in the moment. You should also try to make a connection to someone the suicidal person trusts.
  7. Stay Connected: Keep in touch after the crisis or after being discharged. Suicide deaths decrease when someone follows up with the at-risk person.

Heart + Paw was envisioned to provide a place for people to care for animals in a happy, healthy, and financially rewarded way. Let’s be sure we keep taking care of each other.

Dr. George Melillo
Chief Veterinary Officer, Co-Founder at Heart + Paw

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