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Suicide Awareness: Dr. Sophia Yin | VETgirl Veterinary CE Webinar Blog

A few months ago, veterinarian Dr. Shirley Koshi died by suicide.

Just a few days ago, we learned that Dr. Sophia Yin took her life.

The founders of VETgirl, Dr. Justine Lee and Dr. Garret Pachtinger are deeply upset about the growing concern of suicide in veterinary medicine.

The question remains, why is veterinary medicine so “predisposed” to suicide?

People with mental illness or suicidal thoughts frequently suffer more than they have to because they are afraid to speak up.   That has to stop.  Nobody should have to suffer or die for fear of speaking out.  There is nothing shameful about mental illness or suicide.

VETgirl wanted to make our recent webinar on suicide awareness available, free for everyone. This is a growing concern in veterinary medicine and we should not be afraid to talk about this concern.

Originally aired on May 21, 2014, this VETgirl webinar, "Suicide awareness in veterinary medicine: Should we be alarmed?" (given by Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW) reviewed the prevalence of suicide in the veterinary profession in order to raise awareness of this sensitive topic and empower attendees to prevent suicide within our ranks.

If this webinar helps just one person in our community, it is worth it.

Dr. Sophia Yin, Dr. Shirley Koshi, and all the other friends, colleagues, and family members lost as a result of suicide, you will be missed.

Need some more resources? Check out these sources here:

http://www.samhsa.gov/find-help

http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions

Unable to view the webinar recording? Click here. Other questions? You can always contact us via our Contact Us page.

85 thoughts on “Suicide Awareness: Dr. Sophia Yin | VETgirl Veterinary CE Webinar Blog

  1. I can’t speak for Dr. Yin, but I don’t think the issue is a fear of speaking out. It’s hopelessness. It’s being convinced that even the most adept psychologist could not possibly pull you out of this hole. It’s having tried multiple medications and multiple therapists and always ending up at square one: the exhaustion of unrelenting self hatred (even if you know others love you) and the aching desire to be, for once, free from your thoughts and fears. This is the reality for many highly intelligent, talented people who cannot escape their own impossible standards. Every time this happens, the same questions get asked – what could have been done to prevent it? Why would someone with so much going for them choose to end their life? We just refuse to believe that these questions cannot be answered, that not every problem can be fixed, no matter how much we seek to “raise awareness” of it. I cannot stand that phrase.

    • Thank you anonymous, for putting on paper the thoughts and feelings I’ve struggled with for years. On a rational level, I know I am a successful, intelligent, much-loved and admired veterinarian, but the exhaustion of self-hatred and perfectionism are overwhelming. I am seeing a therapist and taking medication, but I so wish I could openly admit that I’m suffering from a chronic disease and not shameful secret. Dr. Yin’s death impacted me greatly, as did the death of Robin Williams. Reading these comments and looking at their cause of death as depression, not suicide has given me the strength to continue my battle for wellness.

    • Until my brother committed suicide on July 5 I was not aware of many facts. Like Dr. Yin he was like a public figure, highly successful, very well loved by his 3 kids, 4 grandchildren with over 600 attending his funeral. I was not aware that more people die from suicide than homicide. I was not aware that CEU credits on suicide are not given to mental health professionals which is being worked on to change and that the media will give less coverage to suicide than other health matters cause it is still in the shadows. What you wrote I am sure explains my brothers thoughts. Yet he just did med change 1 week prior so it is possible his suicidal thoughts were from the meds. Klonopin clearly states it within first week-month is extremely risk for this based on research, yet his doctor failed to tell him or his wife. When he spoke of killing himself with his family on vacation on the beach they did not believe the man who was everyones star and hero.who adored them so would actually do it. He seemed to have many happy moments enjoying his grandkids. Yet if they had the awareness that others like him who you never would guess would go thru with it..do in fact do it! That may have made a difference. We get so much on chain emails about dangers of hot plastic bottles, how to stop a heart attach, how to handle if you are stalked, etc, yet I have never seen one on suicide facts, or awareness. Just learned about 211 as easy to remember suicide hotline..where I live. That is why I believe we do need more awareness as do believe many suicides can prevented and the person can gain more time to try to get well. New drugs and treatments come out all the time. The mind of someone who commits suicide is in state they have distortions so maybe aren’t best person to decide if right time to die. Now someone with painful terminal cancer who has clear head..that is different story.

      • “The mind of someone who commits suicide” is that of “I want this pain to end NOW, by whatever means I have to hand.”

        A three-time (obviously incompetent; I was in high school) survivor. Despair is a terrible state to be trapped in. It’s not distorted; it’s not a hallucination. It’s despair. And if one has been feeling this despair for decades, then one has given “it” one’s best shot.

    • I completely empathize with the statement from “anonymous.” After losing three friends (all vets) in the last three years from suicide, I’ve been quite sensitive to this issue – not to mention I’ve been there myself on more than one occasion. It is devastating and painful to imagine someone suffering not just from depression, but despair. It is a horrifying state of being where you truly believe the world would be better off without you (At least that is my experience). For whatever this is worth (and the jury is still out for me) there is genetic testing available for certain markers and how our individual bodies process medication. I just received shocking results that I not only lack the ability to create serotonin, I also have a cytochrome deficiency that affects metabolism of most anti-depressants. There is hope in new discoveries in neuroscience everyday. I highly recommend several “TEDtalks” on positive psychology (a more cognitive approach) truly amazing and hopeful new science. I will look for the websites and post for those interested. Keep fighting please! The experience of attending my friend’s funeral will hopefully forever deter me from entering that state again.

    • Suicide is tragic, and it always seems so hard to understand. Far too often it seems to occur in someone with such talent, and who has everything going for them, or is so young with their life ahead of them. Those left behind are devastated, angry, guilty, helpless, replete with questions of why? There are few people these days who have not experienced the suicide of a friend, colleague, a parent, child, cousin, aunt, a friend’s child, church member, a child’s schoolmate, and the list goes on. I don’t think anyone can really understand the pain that someone must be feeling when they decide that life is just too painful to go on. I think the best anyone can do is to try to be there for our friends and family, to try to be more aware of the inner struggles everyone faces and to try to ensure those we love and care about KNOW we are there for them, and REACH OUT to anyone who might be having a bad time. Be slow to judge, and quick to support. Everyone is waging their private wars, and we must be vigilante.
      Certainly any group at higher risk than average should be forming support systems and creating atmospheres of openness and acceptance. The healing professions may seem at particular risk as they are held up to high standards from their patients, themselves and their colleagues, and it may be particularly hard to admit the “healer” needs “healing themselves. Reading the comments on this website has me encouraged that this profession is recognizing and acknowledging the risks they face and are taking steps to preventing this illness from robbing them of their colleagues. Kudos to you all and best wishes!!!….c

    • Having gone through a childhood where nothing I ever did was “good enough”, I found peace and acceptance among my animal friends. They never “judged” me. But as an adult, and a successful veterinarian, I am my worst enemy. I impose the “even when I have done my very best, it is still not enough” mentality on myself. I believe many people chose the field of veterinary medicine for the same reason I did which is the “Unconditional” acceptance that animals can give. It is very difficult to suppress learned childhood behaviors.

      • Dear Dr. DC,

        We feel you… in the veterinary community, we are too hard on ourselves – hence our workaholic, “INTJ” class personality. Continue to find peace and love with your animal friends, but with your close network too! Know that you are fully supported by us here at VetGirl and the rest of your veterinary community!

  2. It doesn’t surprise me that veterinarians would be prone to suicide. Most have probably lovingly performed euthanasia on other people’s and perhaps their own beloved pets. Therefore they know that the soul can be released from the body in a peaceful manner, unlike the botched executions of humans by lethal injections that take too long to work. I think it should be possible for a person suffering from a terminal illness to end their life, or have someone else do it in the same way a pet can be relieved of its suffering.

    • That being said, veterinarians also know it is not ethical to perform euthanasia on an animal when treatment is available. There is treatment available for depression.

      • Actually veterinarians euthanize a lot of animals that could be treated. Animals that are let go because their owners dont have funds, or do not care enough to spend the money to treat them. Sometimes due to pain euthanasia is the only ethical option that is left to us. And because we are so bonded to animals we see this same option available to us when we are in pain.

        We are also the best of the best- we have to be to get into vet school. You need to have a never fail attitude to get through college and then vet school. And then we go to the real world and fail everyday. I have watched many young female vets become burnt out to quickly for these reasons. We are also saddled with a massive amount of debt and have to work a long hours to get ourselves out of debt.

        This does not give us a lot of time to pause and reflect on why we feel depressed. But so many of us are left feeling we made the wrong choice in this profession.

        • Do you think that only veterinarians come out of school with debt?
          Vet techs do as well. Some of us have years of equivalent amount of education, but we are paid so much less, without benefits. We are treated as disposable by the vets that hire us. My life is a complete disaster because of veterinary medicine. They use us till we are all used up, destroy our health “for the sake of the cause”. In yet we continue to care for the charges we have. That is why I am in hopeless despair. In the end, no job, no medical care for our job related injuries, pile of debt, ruined relationships from the stress of the job.. A trail of discarded emplpyees with ruined lives.
          I have been to many funerals of colleagues. And frankly, I don’t blame them.

          • I am finding this a few years after its original posting but I am a vet tech too, & I struggle with a lot of the same issues you have posted about. I’m just over age 40 and have chronic back issues with constant new injuries on a weekly basis from lifting & restraining dogs. I love the work we do and I get no job satisfaction from any other types of work I’ve tried. However, some days the weight of what we see and do everyday is too much to handle, and in those dark times I struggle to find a way to cope. I’m on 3 medications for anxiety & depression, and it seems to just barely take the edge off. I work in a small, but very busy, rural practice where I seem to be the only person who has a passion for the animals & what’s best for them; my coworkers are all so burnt out that they seem to have zero compassion for the patients we see. It’s hard to go to work everyday with people like this; it makes me feel so alone… and I fear that their attitudes are the inevitable result of the endless barrage of pet suffering we deal with. I recognize that their callousness is likely just self-preservation and I try to be sympathetic, but because I haven’t yet reached that level of “ethical fatigue,” it’s something I struggle to understand, & most are not willing to discuss their feelings honestly. I’m glad to have found this article and discussion; it helps to know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

        • Anelise- so true! Shocked and saddened to hear about Dr. Sophia Yin. I didn’t realize how prevalent depression and suicide are in veterinarians. Health, neuroscience and behavior (animal and human) are among my biggest passions. I am only writing now in the hope that it might help someone else. If it helps you to think of depression as an illness that is sometimes fatal, then read no further. I have to say, though, it has often puzzled me that depression is considered an illness. As vets we list depression as a symptom. Even human medicine acknowledges many illnesses that have depression as a symptom. I think it may be a disservice to some, to think of depression as a diagnosis. I have researched and pondered this issue quite a bit and I am not alone in what I believe. We know enough to know there are real differences in neurotransmitter levels in depression. But why? I have come to believe that depression is the brain’s self protective mode against over-use or lack of nutrients. We are not surprised when our muscles ache when we over use them, so why should we be surprised if our brain tries to give us the same message. The thing is, I don’t think sitting on the couch with a glass of wine and a favorite TV show is always successful in allowing the brain the R&R it needs. With our nutrient depleted foods and over-stimulating lives relaxing might take a bit of conscious effort. I have found that “active meditation” (things like yoga nidra or Silva’s “dynamic meditation”) is the single most powerful tool for making my brain happy. But eating the right foods, walking in nature, listening to the ocean, gazing at flame, brainwave entrainment, practicing positive visualizations…these are just a few of the tools for balancing the brain. If anyone reading this is depressed or suicidal, please seek help. But if you’ve tried a therapist, psychiatrist and medications and are still feeling hopeless, know that those aren’t your only options.

      • And that attitude, quite frankly, is I believe a key contributor to veterinary suicide and depression. For many animals, although there may be treatment available, it is not a perfect world with perfect homes for unwanted and abandoned animals or an endless supply of money for treatment. So, it comes down to us to do what we think is right for the animal, instead of abandonment or prolonged suffering or indeed a whole life confined to a kennel. We didn’t breed it, neglect it or give it up yet we are made to feel guilty or unethical when there is no other option for the animal. Then openly vilified for it on social media. Your world sounds so simple and perfect.

  3. I am deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Yin’s life. She was a wonderful animal advocate and had a deep impact in how pets are treated. With the passing of Robin Williams, one blogger wrote that he did not die from suicide; rather he died from depression. I urge you to read this post as even the terminology we use surrounding suicide paints it as a choice made and cloaks it in a mask of shame. I have lost too many friends to depression, and I appreciate your video.

    http://www.tomclempson.com/2014/08/robin-williams-did-not-die-from-suicide/

    • Thank you for sharing this as I did not think of it this way either even though I have had many bouts of Depression, sometimes years, many times I have wanted to die, even just last week as I am in a lot of pain physically and obviously mentally. Everyone always says its so selfish to end your life but are they feeling your pain? No!!!!

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  5. I know a well-respected Maryland veterinarian, RIchard Clement, who had several amazing copyrights in the field and a healthy practice who shocked all who knew him by committing suicide just a few years ago. As I looked into it, I found out that there were large numbers of veterinarians who choose suicide. So why?

  6. I am not a Veterinarian, my husband was. Dr Eric D Swanson, owner and solo doctor at the Cable Area Veterinary Clinic. Eric struggled with depression and alchohol dependency. He was a very gifted surgeon, excelled at internal medicine and was Certified as an Animal Chiropractor among other specialties. Eric struggled with doing euthanasias- even when necessary, he felt the burden of owning and running his own business of 13 years. He felt overwhelmed by life in general and would dwell on the animals he lost not the many he saved. On June 22, 2014 he committed suicide. This tragedy shook up our small town and has devestated his family and friends. As his wife and a Certified Vet Tech I was left to close the business. I have such appreciation for all you Veterinairans, it is a stressful job and if you have personal demons on top of it sometimes it gets to be to much to deal with. I can’t believe someone as intelligent and gifted as my husband was thought this was his only out. My heart is so broken.

    • Jackie, I am so very sorry for the loss of your husband. He sounds like an amazing man. I am a veterinarian also, but as you know working in a veterinary hospital in any capacity as a tech, receptionist or assistant can be very hard emotionally and physically. Compassion fatigue is a real problem in our profession–especially when you add it onto the stress of daily life. I pray for comfort and peace for you. I am so saddened by the loss of Dr Sophia Yin and I did not know her personally, and cannot imagine the pain you are personally experiencing with the loss of your husband.

    • Jackie,

      So sorry to hear what you are going through. My dad was a veterinarian who committed suicide in 2008. Although his depression was compounded by physical pain, he was also burdened by practice ownership and his ‘failures’ in life and medicine. I am now a veterinarian myself and better understand some of the issues he faced. But I’ll never fully understand what led him to take his life. I share this so that you know you are not alone (unfortunately), that you know there are others who understand your pain (though each person’s pain is different). If you would like to talk at any time, I’m available.

  7. It is always the most gentle and those who feel the pain of this world who die this way. My son committed suicide when he was 26. I am sure that veterinarians are constantly exposed to animal abuse and neglect. There is only so much a humane vessel can carry. Despair and sorrow are the side effects of those who love innocent and gentle creatures. It takes a constant effort to not let the ugliness of this life wear you out.

    • Denise,
      Your post really spoke to me. I am a graduate student in Vet Social Work and I have times when I feel so overwhelmed with the cruelty in this world. And yet I still can’t turn away. I honestly don’t feel that I have a choice and that I am supposed to help. But you are so correct–there is only so much we can carry. I am a perfectionist and feel so connected to the pain and suffering of animals. And I feel so much anger and so disconnected to this world and the people in it. I vacillate between wanting to move to an animal sanctuary and check out –just feed and love them every day to fighting to change laws on animal abuse. The pain of this calling is indeed sometimes overwhelming and hopeless.

    • So well said Denise, as a Veterinary Receptionist for only a few years now I too feel this way about the innocent and gentle creatures, and I suspect that most people drawn to the Veterinary world are just such innocent and gentle creatures. I have found as a receptionist that animals have a way of exposing the bare heart of humans, and one sees the vulnerable side of people that they do not show in other professions. In this profession one cannot help but be compassionate because the animal draws it out in one, and therefore the “compassion fatigue” that is spoken of nowadays is a real threat. I have found myself needing to change professions, even though I do not want to, it feels like a matter of life and death, and I am not a young person without life experience and wisdom. Thank you.

  8. As a veterinarian, suicide has impacted me multiple times with colleagues. It is tremendously sad. I feel it is not hopelessness but a feeling of failure that drives it. Lack of preparation by veterinary schools, and being “sold out” by veterinary community. Cranking out veterinarians ill prepared, promoting the “human-animal bond” beyond all healthy measures, and having zero training for the new grads to deal with the customers who expect “the answer” for a single test or minimal funds….or who “would do anything for their pet/ child” but have no funds to do so……which leaves the veterinarian, not only declining services and feeling horrible about it, but euthanizing a potentially helped patient, and not only that….facing the grief and usually vitriol of the family, usually in person or at least later on the internet.

    And the veterinary community has nothing kind for each other as well. It’s sick. Mind your own business, keep your head down, do your best, and hope you make it. Speak to NO ONE. Ask NO ONE for help on a case,. Even when you refer……you are the subject of “what not to do as a learning tool”…….I remember school being like that. The ER clinics are like totally like that……Being good isn’t ever Good enough.

    Makes me so sad every time I hear of a suicide. I don’t know a vet who has died of natural causes yet. I guess I’m not that old, but too many by suicide, ALL by suicide. SO SAD and I didn’t even know her.

    • Hi Cathy, I appreciate your comments. I am a veterinarian as well and have battled with depression. I’m still not sure if my chemical composition is to blame and my profession sure doesn’t help, or if my profession is to blame and my chemical composition sure doesnt help….: ) not really important. I think you raise a GREAT point and as I listen to this webinar, I sure hope the presenters discuss this, this profession has a large number of a**holes and there is not a sense of community or support, but rather adversarial and critical as you have noted (part. specialists and eclinics).

  9. I am a “people ” nurse and a dog lover. The pain is palpable in these posted replies.
    I can’t claim I know the answer. But I do know I was impressed by the kindness and compassion
    shown to our family when our beloved dog, Carley, died. I was so impressed by everyone in our Vets’ office.
    Thank you,

    • Send your veterinary team a card telling them exactly that. Don’t send an email or post a comment on their facebook wall. Send them a card that they can hang in their office and look at from time to time. Veterinarians and their staff receive many complaints every day but rarely receive genuine gratitude from their clients. It may really help a veterinarian or a member of their staff who is struggling.

  10. As a veterinarian myself, I continue to be saddened by the loss of my colleagues by suicide. I personally lost my employer, an owner/practitioner 4 years ago, and a classmate 3 years ago. I know of others from other graduating classes close to my own. How many take their lives and we never hear about it? This is a serious problem for our profession. Raising awareness may not fix it right now, but hiding the fact that it is happening and happening often does not help anyone. In my case, my employer took me to lunch and asked me whether I wanted ownership in the practice shortly before she overdosed. I had only been there for 3 months. We can’t fix something if we don’t know that it is a problem, right?

  11. I’m not a veterinarian but I’ve loved animals for 50+ years. I was also “clinically depressed” during most of that time, and even suicidal several times. Have since learned that, for me, therapy and medications are just band-aids, but not for the reason you might think of first! For me, it was the “food” I ate….. what, sugar, dairy and processed foods. Once I eliminated these and started eating whole, REAL food my life TOTALLY turned around. I don’t hate myself anymore, and I can actually live myself now. I highly recommend it!

  12. I can’t speak for everyone in the vet profession however most of us vets and techs are in it because we like animals better than people. We get in it hoping to avoid people and soon realize that people go with the pets.
    We are not trained to deal with the human side and most of us are uncomfortable with it.

    I feel the veterinary profession is expected to give the same care as the medical profession provides. The problem is this is impossible…..for several reasons. The lack of support staff. This is huge problem in clinics across the country because clients can’t afford it. It costs money to provide diagnostic services- blood work, ultrasounds, radiographs, surgical diagnostic procedures. Then once you find the problem the treatments can be emotionally, financially, and physically overwhelming to the owner.

    Also, most of our patient are afraid of us. We do things that are painful and seen as aggressive behaviors to animals. We poke them and we touch them in inappropriate places. We have to try to make them trust us while we do hurtful things to them. We do this all while trying to keep ourselves out of bite range.

    It seems in the medical world no one doctor is at fault because there are so many doctors involved in a human case. However, in the veterinary world, the buck stops here…. One veterinarian usually is over a case. So if something goes wrong the finger points to a single doctor.

    And one big thing is most of us love animals so much that we go in a large amount of debt to save them. Yes, we all could have gone to medical school but then we would have to touch sick people!!! Yuck!!! This statement is true for a lot us and screams mental illness. We think our own kind are gross. We rather help different species that do not want our help, in fact resist it, than help a human. I think most of us that choose this profession already have mistrust issues with people.

    And don’t forget euthanasia?
    We have to console clients and euthanize their beloved pet. We second guess ourselves praying we exhausted all other avenues before we agreed to kill the thing we love most- pets.

    In saying all this I still love being a veterinarian. I love that I get to hug dogs. I love to see that tail wag and I love dog kisses. I love when a cat allows me to cradle them like a baby. I love when a kitty gives a cute little “meow”

    My favorite thing is to the watch the human animal bond and is one of the most amazing things I get to observe on a regular basis.

    The most important thing that being a veterinarian has taught me…… Is that I love the people that go with the pets. The owners remind me that I’m not alone and they love pets too.

    • Thank you, Michelle. Reading this, I can see that you are a wonderful vet and truly love your work. Thanks for all you do for your patients and your sincere compassion.

  13. As a child I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals with a passion and can remember saving birds and other wild creatures from certain death before I could even spell their names. As I grew I continued to nurture and love all animals but was denied the opportunity of becoming a veterinarian. I now believe this saved my life. I could not be a veterinarian and keep my sanity and I have great respect for those in our community that continue to be vets. For many reasons, it cannot be an easy occupation.

  14. I like to tell people that I’ve “grown up” in the veterinary industry/field. I started working in a kennel in a vet. hospital when I was a teenager. I recently left my job as a tech of several years, I am in my late 20s. This industry is all I know, I love everything about it. I thought I would be a “lifer”, that working with animals as a technician was what I was meant to do. I developed severe depression in my early 20s. My symptoms were exacerbated ten-fold by my eventual full-blown drug addiction. I don’t think the field is responsible for this at all. But I do think that the elements of our work certainly contributed to it. I made a serious attempt to take my life last year. I took a lethal dose of benzos and only survived because I was found and that person called 911. I had reached my end. This wasn’t a “cry for help”, it was a serious attempt to die. My emotions were, in essence, dead. I had become professionally numb – I didn’t have feelings anymore. How could I? I went in to work everyday and watched animals that could be sincerely helped, many whom I’d grown to really love because I had worked with them and their families for years, be euthanized due to lack of finances. I saw dog owners decline pain management for their extremely arthritic senior pets due to frugality or apathy. I dealt with people that looked down on our profession, despite the industry’s growing technical and educational advancements. Nothing shocked me anymore. I didn’t grow tired of seeing cats practically starved to death, or dogs living with daily seizures due to an owner’s unwillingness to medicate. I simply became numb. And when I would think back, to when I started as a TA in my early 20s, nothing had changed. Ten years went by and although the industry continued to improve, it was improving only in our eyes, no one else recognized our achievements, and if they did, they didn’t care to compliment them. Why should they? After all, “he/she is just a dog/cat.” In my final months working, a cat that was beloved by both the hospital and its owners was diagnosed with lymphoma. The owners came to pick him up after his ultrasound with the internist. They were beside themselves. Ten years ago, I may have been, too. But I wasn’t. They asked me, “how do you deal with this everyday?” and the only reply I could give them was “I don’t know.” How are we expected to go home everyday and interact with our family and friends, with emotion and feeling like everyone else, when we train ourselves to do the opposite when at work? I lost that ability completely and I hated it. I wanted to feel things like I used to when at work. I wanted to cry at euthanasias. I wanted to be angry at neglect. But I couldn’t anymore. I love veterinary medicine and nothing has hurt me as much as leaving it. But it was killing me.

  15. In my opinion, the people who choose this profession, are animal lovers and have tender hearts. The reality of animal care, is that its heartbreaking, frustrating and very difficult. The love and compassion for animals is often battered in the face of people mistreating them. Add in the seemingly endless problem of pet over population and the reality of having to put down litters of precious, beautiful puppies and kittens simply because there is no room for them. Its no wonder these tender hearted animal lovers end up feeling hopeless and disillusioned. I don’t know what the solution is. Perhaps just acknowledging the issue and talking about it amongst others in the profession…a support group of sorts. I know in animal rescue, burnout is very common so I can imagine what its like in the vets.

  16. I’m not a veterinarian. I’m a former pet owner who has suffered the grief of euthanizing his loved friends on several occasions, when they were too weak to thrive and too painful to watch in their agony. I don’t have any great insight to add to this forum other than to say I have tremendous respect for those in veterinary medicine. I want to thank everyone in this field for their courage, patience, fortitude, and heart. Believe it or not, my experiences with veterinarians has been better than my experiences with general practitioners! They are more honest & compassionate. They are not so quick as to ask you to pay your bill as tears run down your face and drench your soul. So…thank you, all of you out there, in veterinary medicine, and my late great friends thank you too.

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  18. As a veterinarian who has recovered from severe depression and addiction, I can testify that as a young person with a deep love and identification with animals, a deep sensitivity, and a family idolizing academic success among other dysfunctions, veterinary school and then veterinary practice is a crushingly horrible place to be. In vet school (27 years ago, so hopefully not as much now) animals are treated as objects to be studied, used, discarded. Remember that veterinary medicine grew from a service to farmers, where decisions regarding animals are largely made on an economic basis. The whole companion animal side of it was added on, starting in the 50s-60s, and the emphasis has shifted gradually. When I was in school there was no training on interpersonal relations, no instruction on how to help people with difficult decisions, no talk about compassion fatigue or burnout or self-care. Thank God I had the opportunity to learn about these things through life experience, good mentors, VIN, and a LOT of personal growth work.

    Which brings me to the point I wanted to make. Few people talk about the pivotal role spirituality can have in recovery from mental illness. Obviously not everyone is going to be cured by being “born again”- that’s not what I mean. If you look at contemporary definitions of spirituality you find it is about knowing that there is a deeper meaning in life, that there is a power greater than ourselves, that we have a purpose other than our obvious role as humans having occupations and everyday lives. Practicing spirituality can take many many forms including meditation, prayer, participation in church, inspirational/devotional music (my personal favorite), walking in nature, reading sacred texts or books about one’s spiritual path, deep conversations with friends and/or spiritual counselors, travel to spiritually significant places, weekend workshops or retreats, helping someone who is struggling with something you have experience with, practicing kindness and compassion – towards oneself first and foremost.

  19. You are so correct, Lucy, about how screwed up our mental & physical health becomes when we fuel our bodies with ingredients that our species wasn’t designed to consume in large quantities (wheat, sugar, processed foods and for some, dairy). For me, the breakthrough came when I realized my body could not cope with wheat, rye, barley, apples, cauliflower and grapes (yes, I know the last three are supposed to be good for us, but not my body, which is super-sensitive to them). The worst thing was corn starch, which I believe I became hyper-sensitive to through several decades of using powdered gloves. Corn starch is also in the vast majority of processed foods! Detoxifying my body took around 2 months (and yes, I went through all the usual stages of grieving when it came to giving up donuts – denial, anger, rationalizing and my fair share of sobbing!), but what doing this did for my mental and physical health was dramatic. Goodbye migraines, too! Now I only shake my head as I walk by the donuts, bread and pastries. Not for any amount of money would I ever take a bite.

    For anyone who suffers from depression, you owe it to yourself to read Dr. David Purlmutter’s book, “Grain Brain.” Most people don’t know that the brain (and not the gut) is the most sensitive organ in our bodies to food hypersensitivities. Read this book and you will have no doubt, especially if you give up on your attachments to certain foods to reach, instead, for the many better-for-YOUR-body options that are out there to choose.

    Another thing that I don’t think many people in our profession consider is how vital it is to understand and honor the mental processes or psychology of the many species in our care! Trying to help animals without an understanding and appreciation of the way they communicate with each other is like insisting upon speaking French to an English-only-speaking child. It doesn’t work very well. A great book to read in this regard is “Learning “DOG” by Lynne Swanson, a vet in North Carolina. Putting some of the things she recommends into play helped me greatly with the dogs (and some cats) that I work with. From this, I now see the dogs as both mirrors of my moods, and also (because acknowledging a problem has to be the first step in addressing it), furred mentors toward my own better mental health. Animals, heal thy doctors!

    Grain Brain is available in any bookstore and most libraries. Learning “DOG” is only available online at: http://www.learningdog.us. The Learning “DOG” people also conduct conferences for vets & techs with approved CE credits for many states. I went to one and can attest to some very good energy there!

    With love to all of you.

  20. I am not a veterinarian and found myself reading these comments when a well known local Dr. (Sophia Yin) took her own life. I had no concept of the emotional difficulties suffered by practitioners of this noble professions. I am a companion of rescue dogs and cats and am active in feral cat care. At 80 years of age my heart has been broken by the loss of many animal companions over the years. My suffering is limited, I can just imagine how the losses affect the caring professionals in veterinary. I will admit I wept reading some of the comments and will forevermore be much more appreciative of the loving humans that practice this most loving p profession.

  21. I am not a vet but I do love animals and I’ve had to euthanize many of my animals and the vets and staff have always been so nice and I leave crying my eyes out but I have always given my pets the best live I can, including good veterinary care. I agree that it is so hard for the vets to have to deal with but then later the owner comes in with a new puppy all happy and starts the circle all over again. New animals never replace the old ones but they do bring joy back into your life and I’m sure vets see that as well. I appreciate everything my vets have done for me and my dogs and I feel so bad that so many of them suffer from depression and I wish it was an easy fix after reading all these posts it doesn’t appear that it is.

  22. I am a later in life veterinarian. I graduated in 2012 at the age of 37. I had suffered from depression and anxiety before I went to vet school. During vet school it worsened even though I was in regular counseling and on medication. I fell into self harm and disordered eating. I graduated and went into my first job where I soon learned I had the boss from hell. Add the financial burdens from vet school and things went more downhill. I loved my clients, most of them that is. I loved aspects of my job. But I was exhausted from having to battle my boss daily over mentoring me in surgery like he had promised. Or suffering under constant scrutiny as he and his wife watched the clinic on cameras from home. I was in a state of fight or flight constantly. I worked as a manager and assistant 8 years before I went into vet school so it wasn’t like I didn’t know what I was getting into.

    Last March I finally said enough when my condition worsened to the point of suicidal ideation. I went away to residential treatment for depression, anxiety, self harm, suicidal ideation and disordered eating. I was there for 3 months. I’ve been home for 3 months now, and I’m so much better than I was. It’s still a daily battle though, and it always will be. I’m starting to look for work again, keeping in mind that I have to take better care of myself so I can take care of my patients/clients.

    This topic is one that needs to be brought to light more. I was shocked reading all the posts above. I knew it was bad but wow. I knew I wasn’t alone but I didn’t know how many others there were.

    I’m so sorry Dr. Yin’s death is what its taken to hopefully bring out more help, knowledge, and acceptance for the rest of us.

  23. I am a licensed veterinarian but probably saved my sanity by stepping out of clinical medicine. I really never wanted that path anyway. The clinic environment was too harsh and the stress in the patients too palpable for me. Though I have taken a different path that provides a sense of inner peace and satisfaction as founder and director of a non-profit, I suffered from depression for most of my life. Vet school was the darkest period of my life. The steep learning curve, the competition and lack of connection with my fellow students were very difficult. Subsequently, trying to juggle a young family with part-time vet work continued the stress. When you are exhausted, you make mistakes or bad choices which lead to despair that is hard to rise above. Having seen that dark place, I understand how people can take that final out. Visits to the student health service’s psychiatric department only succeeded in providing me a stockpile of antidepressants and the label of “psychosis” on my medical records that prevented me from getting disability insurance. When I worked in clinics and for vet associations, it struck me how so many veterinarians were not very supportive of each other, much like my classmates. So between the high pace, the long hours, the non-supportive professional environment, it’s no wonder that veterinarians suffer from depression. But even though I eliminated those factors from my life, it took years before I realized the root of my depression was a skewed view of my self worth. I’ve since learned to value myself, to choose a path that keeps me healthy mentally and to limit contact with negative influences. While I do become overwhelmed on occasion, I no longer fall into that crevasse of despair like before. That would be difficult in today’s typical veterinary hospital. I hope discussions like this will help change the profession so that it will provide a more sane workplace for the people who care for animals.

  24. I have worked in the veterinary field for over 30 years, first as a kennel worker, then tech and now a Practice Manager. I LOVE MY JOB!!! I have to admit that I never knew there was a name for the way I have felt off and on for years. At our office, we meet a family and see the joy in their faces because of the new addition to the family. Some people don’t realize this but we grow attached to our patients AND their family. So when something happens to them we not only feel the animals pain we feel the pain of the family. It may be Cancer, Hit by car or just old age, but it makes the whole staff at our clinic feel so very sad and helpless. We can only try to comfort our grieving friends as they say good bye to their beloved companion. PLEASE REMEMBER we will miss them too!! The hardest part of our job is this, we want first and foremost the best for the pet! Sometimes that is not always what’s best for the owner. We try really hard to make it a loving and compassionate experience for families. Even if you don’t see it, we cry too!! We even go home at night, remembering the sweet faces we have cared for many years and say a prayer that our little buddies made it safely to the Rainbow Bridge. We also hope maybe one day we will see them again.
    I work for one of the greatest vets in the world!! We have been together for the past 25 years, and all I can say is this: I pray one day I can be half the person he is. He has taught me so much.
    Love you Dr. Root!!!
    We have had several veterinarians in our surrounding area that has left us due to the overwhelming stress. We love and miss you very much!! Thank you for all the care and compassion you gave while here on earth. Be in Peace now!! God knows your heart!!

  25. How can we thank you vets and techs for the loving care that you give?
    We are canine adopters. In 40 years we have only had 2 babies that were meant to
    be our pups. All the others are adopted. We usually have two at a time. Now that we
    are in our 81st year, we can only care for 1 at a time. Our lives without our best friends seems
    empty in comparison. We lost two 16 year old Cairns within 6 months of each other.
    The pain was so severe that I said “no more” to my husband. We went about 6 months
    and one day he saw an ad in the hometown paper with a picture of a little white dog that said.
    “My name is Clementine, please adopt me.” By 8:00 that evening little Clemmie was ours.
    She is our joy. We had to make promises, sign papers and pay dollars. There is nothing
    that could take the place of the love and happiness that she gives us.

    Keep doing your good work! There are still many of us who love and adore our pets.
    We do appreciate all those who are in animal work. We are supportive!

    • Thank you Barbara – you are so sweet. I’m so glad you are such an avid dog lover!! Thank you for your kind, supportive words!

  26. It was difficult but satisfying to read through all these comments and observations on our professions’ experiences and stresses. I retired from the profession four years ago after practicing as the only veterinarian in a small town of four thousand people for thirty years. The community was small and mainly conservative farming/ ranching in beliefs. Money was always tight and animal care and welfare was very far down the list of importance.

    I truly felt every day that there was no one else there for some of my patients. If they were sick, injured, or merely an inconvenience, the options were few or none. I cried an ocean of tears for my patients, particularly cats, who were consistently thought of as vermin.

    Animal control was an entity that started off as an extension of the sheriffs office and moved to the realm of an “independent contractor” who had no oversight, and hardly any support from the local government.

    I retired because I was clinically depressed, overwhelmed by too many responsibilities and just plain burned out. It wasn’t easy to quit caring when I knew animals were suffering and had few advocates for their welfare.

    I dearly miss my patients and the few caring, devoted clients I had and the friends I made in practice but thirty years was enough for me. I’m still dealing with day to day anxiety over the choices I made and the experiences I had.

    I thank God for an understanding and loving husband and child or I would not be here.

  27. I had practice veterinary medicine for 22 years in small animals practice and loved it. However I became anxious and depressed. I was trying to combine poor salary, working hours, and raising 4 children. Than I decided to take a position at the government to write policy. It went well, but there was multiple limitation in my power of decision. I thought I was doing a good job. However with the Harper government , scientist position were cut, and out of the blues they eliminated my position. This will be 3 years ago. I went to a deep depression thought multiple time of suicide. I am followwed by a team of doctors that are great. However the depression and the chronic anxiety doesn”t leave me. Some day I can’t even think. I lost my retention of information. I was please to read all these comments and realised that other of my collegues are struggelying with what I am going through. I started painting and people say that I have talent. However with this incredeble trauma of loosing my job out of the blues, when I had created the ELDU policy for Canada, and educated the province toward the application let me beleive that I am and was useless. Now I am on suicidal watch and it is not fun. One hour you feel that you progress and maybe one day you will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and another hour you just feel the pain of living right in your stomach……depression is still tabou, and I got involve with the mental assosciation to raise money for the mental disease. If you suffer from cancer everybody is around you. If you suffer from a deep depression people don’t know how to talk with you and they kind of isolate you. Your battle become bigger because you are fighting alone. I pray God everyday to help me and I sincerely think that he is helping me but my battle with depression is not finish and I don’t wish that to the worst of my ennemy.

  28. Pingback: Welcome | END Trophy Hunting NOW

  29. I am a retired veterinary assistant. I worked in two different clinics with very different doctors and staff. I went from the newbie to being very good at what I do. I worked with women and men who would take home animals that would otherwise lose their lives — one of my first memories at the first job I had was of a dog breeder who would bring in newborn puppies to be euthanized just because they didn’t meet the breed standard. Wow. There was also a woman who brought in cats every couple of years to be euthanized for various reasons. Not to mention the abandoned animals, driving up to the clinic to see a dog tied to the front door, or a box with a cat and kittens. There were times we’d be doing what seemed to be routine surgery and for unknown reasons, the animal would pass away. Owners would get frustrated because their pet would have something that wasn’t easily identified. One client sued the doctor because they thought their young dog’s death could have been prevented.

    I worked with young girls who thought that working in an animal hospital or clinic was all fun and games, playing with cute animals all day. They weren’t prepared for a doctor’s outrage when they were daydreaming and not paying attention to the task at hand and something went wrong. They didn’t understand that when 5pm rolled around on a Friday night and there were still more patients in the lobby and emergencies on the way that they weren’t allowed to leave just because they had a party to go to. They couldn’t understand the range of their supervisor (me) and the doctor when they showed up hung over and were useless to work with.

    There was one very difficult client that always had opinions and she knew everything and we were all incompetents. I was checking in her cat once for an exam and she said she was impressed that I could handle her cat so well. She said that I had such a good “bedside manner” and wanted to know why I wasn’t a human nurse, and I replied, “I don’t like people” and left the room.

    I do like people, but not enough to be a nurse. I didn’t and don’t have the patience, though outwardly it may seem that I do. When I first started working at my first vet job, I was there early and left late and volunteered for everything and anything — partly because I needed the money, but also because I loved what I was doing, even though the pay was not that great to start. I felt for my boss, who owned the clinic that was opened seven days a week, and who rarely took a full day off. He lived and breathed that job, always there when we called and always seemed to be around to help. In all the years that I was there (almost ten), he rarely took vacations and he never gave himself a raise or bonus. He is still in practice and I bet still working with the same beliefs that he had many years ago.

    There was a time in my personal life that things weren’t going well, and I turned to my work for “help”. I rarely took a day off, worked overtime, volunteered to work on the rare days that we were closed (we boarded animals). I started to live and breath that place, and at one particular time when it was overly stressful and I was taking some things way too personally, I got in a little tiff with my boss. We were both hot headed and he told me to back off and I told him no and I told him he might benefit from some time off and he told me to take a day off. I asked him why and he said, “It’s just a job”. And yes, it was just a job, unlike for him it was a career and his life and livelihood. He couldn’t step back and I could. Until the day I left (because I moved after getting engaged) I didn’t step back as I should have. It would have been a lot easier to leave if I did.

    My next clinic was so much different. I worked for a wonderful woman who died. The vet that took over was okay, but had a very different set of beliefs from what I was used to. I was used to veterinarians that were there for the animals. This new vet was there for the money. I was starting to step back from working, but stayed because I knew I was going to be moving out of town and didn’t want to start a new job just to have to leave shortly after starting. I had a toddler and a pretty flexible schedule, thanks to the wonder support staff I worked with. I just wish the circumstances were more like the first hospital I worked at.

    What I’m trying to get at is I know how stressful this profession can be. I worked with doctors who were “seasoned” as well as new graduates that had shining happy faces in the beginning and were drug down at the end. None of them committed suicide (thank goodness), but you could see the toll it took on them both professionally and personally. They saw numerous animals in all stages of life and death and dealing with the owners who all wanted their “kids” to live forever. There were the religious beliefs and personal opinions and personality clashes and money issues and even animal rights would rear their head every once in a while. A lot of clients acted like they should be the priority and they should be the only one.

    Sometimes we forget that veterinarians as well as other professionals are human, too. They feel and hurt and bleed just like the rest of us. I do miss the work, I miss the animals and the comraderie that I had with some of my “girls”. But I know in the eight years since I’ve retired, I had reached my limit. I still have many cats and dogs and treat them very well and always will.

    Would I do it again? Yes, I would. Would I do anything differently? Yes, I would. I would still not see it as “just a job”. I’m not built that way.

    Though they weren’t veterinarians, I have had friends take their lives, and I struggle to this day to understand why (one was also a coworker). My condolences to all that have lost loved ones to suicide.

  30. THANK YOU, Dr. Yin, for your amazing contributions. This is a dialogue that NEEDED to happen I’ve been an LVT for 18 years. I can’t recall how many days I’ve come home and collapsed crying, saying to myself, “I have to be so strong for everyone else.” I’ve been battling bipolar disorder for years and the empathy takes a huge toll on me.

    What do we need to do? Is there a website for support? A help line? We all know this is a problem for so many of us. Where can people go?

    • I am a veterinarian and now have 3 friends, also veterinarians, who have commit suicide. My sister also took her own life, and my mother refused treatment for a very treatable condition, and starved herself to death. It took two weeks for her to pass. It was a horrible, awful thing to witness. For myself, I have had suicidal thoughts (and attempts) over the years.
      I certainly don’t have “the answer”. I don’t know the cause. I don’t know if there is ONE cause…most likely not. What I want to share with you are a few thoughts of mine. That’s all they are. Thoughts. If one of them is helpful in any way to even one person, then it was worth my speaking out.
      When friends of mine found out that I was suicidal, many wanted me to make a pact with them…that if I ever felt really low, I would call them before doing anything drastic. My response was this: If I really wanted to commit suicide and be “successful”, why would I call someone who would try to talk me out of it?
      When friends told me “but your family would be devestated” my thought was: “I wouldn’t care…because I would be dead”.
      I thought that suicide was a very logical choice for me….I had a house-call business in which I performed animal euthanasias at the home of the patient. I talked with the owners and helped them come to terms with the process, and, since most of my clients waited far too long before making the decision, I could honestly tell them that euthanasia, for that pet, was a blessing.
      So…what things worked for me? Why am I still here? Several reasons…
      One psychiatrist, when I explained patiently to him that suicide was a very logical choice for me, told me “But depressed thinking is not logical thinking. When you are depressed, you cannot be logical, even when you think you are.” I respected him, and, his statement seemed….logical….so I’ve accepted it.
      If your medication isn’t working for you…tell your psychiatrist! If your psychiatrist isn’t working for you….pick another one! What a difference it made in my life to have a psychiatrist whom I respected, who respected me as a medical professional, and who worked WITH me to choose and understand my meds. Have the doc pull out the PDR and discuss the drugs with you if you want. I did not have this type of relationship with the non-psychiatrist MD’s that I had worked with.
      I loathe needles in people (so no overdosing using euthasol or injectable narcotics), and I make it a point not to have lots of high-risk pills on hand. Yes, I suppose anything in a large enough amount could kill you…but some drugs are more dangerous than others.
      I tried oral drugs to commit suicide….but clearly did not take enough. They made me vomit repeatedly, and seizure. It was not pleasant.
      Yes, there are other options….for one reason or another I have found a “logical” reason not to use those methods.
      I’ve learned that if I can wait 15 minutes, the really intense feelings of suicide usually pass, or are at least lessened.
      Move. Not geographically. Physically. Move. Get out of bed. Put your feet on the ground. And move. To the store. To the garden. To make a sandwhich. Anywhere. Dance. Jog in place. But move. You know…the natural endorphine thing.
      I found a veterinary friend who was courageous enough to tell me about her depression and thoughts of suicide. She was, and continues to be, a life-line for me. She does not judge or give me answers….just listens. She is invaluable.
      **I got rid of my controlled drugs!** Even with my fear of needles, the euthasol looked pretty tempting at times, and the injectible narcotics could be taken orally. So, in a brief moment of clarity, I called a Vet friend. She asked how soon I needed her to come get the drugs, and I told her “right now”. She drove 1.5 hours to my house and removed that threat from me.
      One of my sisters told me “Only God can create a life, and only God has the right to take a life”…for some reason, that one sticks with me.
      One counselor told me (about my perfectionism): “It isn’t your job to be perfect, that is God’s job. Your only job is to do your best. If you think you can reach perfection, you are saying you can be God, and that isn’t right.” That helps me at times to be a bit easier on myself.
      I don’t drink any alcohol, I don’t smoke anything, and I only take the antidepressant that is prescribed to me. That, and benedryl, are the sum total of “drugs” I take.
      Music can pull me out of a black mood. I put on something that is uplifting, I turn it up loud, and I sing…badly…but I sing. It usually helps. (Dancing is optional…!)
      I try to maintain a sense of humor. Often it is very sarcastic or dark….but if it makes me chuckle at all, it starts the process of pulling me out of my despair for a time.
      I volunteer. A lot. For different groups. For groups that are genuinely grateful for my help. And that tell me so. It helps to belong to a “group”, even just as a volunteer. It’s nice to see people smile when I show up. It’s nice to have someone call, or at least notice, if I don’t show up. And there is little to no pressure. Many groups are just happy if I can show up and clean cat boxes. And even on my most depressed days, I can usually do that.
      I read the poem Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann. It’s a good one. Especially the last 4-6 lines.
      Go outside for a few minutes. Even if it is cold. Especially if it is sunny. We call it “green therapy”.
      I hope one of these thoughts helps someone…anyone…through some period of time. I don’t have the power to save anyone. But I can be here. I can share my experiences. I can listen…if you remind me to.
      Reach out to someone. Call someone. If they are busy, call someone else. And continue doing so until you get what you need for that moment. And for those people who don’t think of suicide….be willing to reach back. Remember that while you cannot save any one of us, you can listen without judgement. You can refrain from holding what we have told you in confidence over our heads…you can keep from shaming us. Instead, remind us that it takes courage, or a big set of b***ls, to open up about our depression. Be honest with us. If it is 2 in the morning, and you are exhausted when we call….tell us….gently…that you would love to talk to us in the morning. Maybe even have a suggestion to help us get through the night. You can’t save us. But you can show us the respect of being honest with us.
      Bless you all. And remember: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a RIGHT to be here.”

  31. This is an amazing blog – so many people able to share their experiences and opinions.
    Lately, I’ve been wondering why I’m still a veterinarian. I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian, and I’ve been practicing for 9 years now. I am married to a veterinarian and have two small children. I started at a practice that was falling apart, and left after two years of the owner trying to sabotage me professionally. I then worked for 4 months for someone who was clinically insane, then found a practice that was like a second home, but I was laid off from there after 5 years. I then worked at a practice that closed after 4 months with no notice, then worked for 8 months at a mobile practice that fired me because I “wasn’t a good fit.” I had a slew of personal, family, and health problems, then wound up at the practice I’m at presently. Now, I believe things happen for a reason, and I count my blessings daily, but even with this new job being my dream job, I just don’t feel like I can do it anymore. Call it compassion fatigue, burn out, depression, whatever -I fantasize almost daily about a totally different job in a different profession, but I know my family needs my income as a veterinarian. A while back, I entertained the idea of opening my own practice, but I don’t have the time or self confidence to do so at this time. I’ve thought about suicide, and the one thing that keeps me from it is not being able to raise my kids or see them grow up.
    I don’t know if there is anyone still monitoring this page, but coming across it tonight, I realized I need to be honest with myself and reexamine my life.
    If you’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian and always wanted to help animals, what happens when you can no longer do that to the best of your ability?

    • Hey InDebt PetVet,

      We feel your pain. Part of the real struggle in veterinary medicine is our desire to continue our career and life goals – to help animals… only to run into so many circumstances similar to what you experienced. Trust me – I’ve been there too. You can check out my commencement talk at University of Minnesota earlier this year here. Sometimes I think taking a break or switching to a totally different area of veterinary medicine is the right answer – at least for a little bit – just so we can still be a veterinarian while not jeopardizing our mental health. Please make sure to find resources out there for help! Know that you are supported!

      Justine

  32. Suicide survivor here thanks to husband. My daughter has mental health and IBD and husband is workaholic. My daughter’s MD nearly fired her for calling after hours…repeatedly. The local volunteer mental health help line sometimes calls back…. 24-48 hrs later. The county crisis line will only talk to people who are suicidal (…but one may become suicidal with no one to talk to in the wee hours of the morning). So daughter calls me and I don’t dare say no because she’ll exhaust other resources. We had to meet with MD in order for her to remain a patient….MD referred to mental health “support services”….LOL, LOL, LOL ROTF LOL. Her mental health office has NO ONE available after hours, even a psychiatrist for medication questions they say go to ER where the patient is put in a lock room and a psychiatric consult can take up to 48 hrs or more and getting a bed in a psychiatric unit can take a week.

    Oh yeah there’s work to deal with too. Seems easy by comparison, at times. I wonder that I have survived. If it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger???? Talking to friends and acquaintances helps but they get compassion fatigue…and the stress never ever goes away so I lose friends or I keep them at arm’s length. I CAN empathize with clients under family pressure and strain and sometimes that helps. Three wonderful (unofficial) therapy dogs(and two cuddly cats) help tremendously for the whole family. Music, dancing, gardening, art also help.

    I also fantasize about another job or winning the lottery and retiring early(really should buy a ticket first). Or another life altogether where I get to actually develop my career as a veterinarian without the daily family crisis management and I plunge myself into becoming a better vet.

    My biggest fantasy is where my daughter and I are killed in a freak accident…sudden death, no pain and I am relieved of the daily pain but she is not left without support. Sometimes on steep roads with cliff below I wonder what speed it would take to go over the guard rail.

    I take it day by day. Today was relatively easy and for that I am thankful. I don’t look ahead to holidays. Its not easy to invite people over. I once got brave enough to do that but most of the people I invited could not or would not come.

    Psychiatric diseases are not romantic or sexy and elicit fear not empathy or sympathy. Suicide is only the tip of that iceberg.

    Enough venting for now…bedtime.

  33. Your post seems to completely ignore what led Dr Koshi to suicide. It was not a mental illness, it was prolonged bullying that almost drove her out of business and that ruined her reputation. I wonder how you’d feel if you were subjected to the same type of bullying, if your business – your livelihood – you worked so hard to build was in jeopardy as a result? She was 55, it’s not easy to restart a business at that age. She didn’t just commit suicide out of nowhere – she was victimized for months and months.

  34. We need better mental health care in this country. It has gone down hill since the Reagan administration. It saddens me to hear of all the people who transition before their time.

  35. as the recent recipient of nastiness by a hospital manager, I feel that there is nothing that can help me feel good about my job anymore. What is the point of trying to do your best every day for the pets when corporate politics can be used against you. I am done, done, and suicide may be an option.

  36. I am not a vet. I am a pet owner.

    I have something to say to a vet who is, or has been, considering suicide.

    Seven years ago, my schnauzer ate her way through a bottle of ibuprofen while I was taking a nap. When I woke up, I realized in horror what had happened and rushed her to an emergency vet. She looked like the life was starting to drain out of her by the time she arrived. If you know schnauzers, you know that sweet, sad look that those big brown eyes can have sometimes. It was like that times ten. There was a great fear that her liver would fail and she just wouldn’t make it.

    But she did, and without the care of an emergency vet she wouldn’t have. Today she is healthy and happy.

    I don’t know how I would cope with the uncaring owners or the ones that can’t be saved or the constant euthanasia requests if I had chosen to become a vet. I do know that a team of vets helped save my little girl, and that means the world to me, and obviously to her too. Just one life matters. Just one life makes a difference. Just one success makes a world of difference. If you are currently thinking about killing yourself, ask yourself: do you really want to take yourself away from that one life that you will save, that one creature who will depend on you and would thank you if s/he could?

    I’m not saying you are being selfish. Being in deep pain is not selfish. I’m not saying that your work is all you are good for. Maybe that belief is something that’s something that’s affecting you and driving you to this point. I am saying that the fact that you can make a difference to just one animal means so much more than you know, and that maybe you can hang on to that thought until you find some means of long-term help and healing. I am saying that you need to be able to see that in spite of being overwhelmed by constant exposure to suffering and death. It means so much.

    I am an activist and have been through strong periods of disillusionment and feelings of helplessness. There is a little vignette I remember from childhood, which may seem corny to some, but made a deep impression on me. http://www.esc16.net/users/0020/FACES/Starfish%20Story.pdf

    Please don’t give up. It’s not hopeless. You deserve better and the animals deserve your care. And thank you for all that you do.

    I hope I was able to do something good with this post.

    • Dear Red,

      Thanks so much for sharing – your post (from a pet owner) means so much to us. It’s pet owners like you who make our job worth it…

      Deepest regards,

      VETgirl

  37. Wow…these posts were so heartfelt and eye-opening. I am a R.N. and have a sweet and healthy Chinese Crested ( hairy hairless). Visits to the Vet’s office have been infrequent but I was always impressed with the kindness and professionalism of everyone. I can hear the emotional pain and heartbreak in these comments. I was an ER R.N. for several years and needed to leave because the stress and sadness related to the job became an everyday occurrence. Stress is cumulative and the human psyche can only take in so much. I took a lower stressed job that didn’t require hands on patient care and made other changes (exercise, diet, new friends). It made a huge difference and I found I missed the “adrenaline rush” that came with a high paced job. I took a position as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner but limited the number of days I worked. I realized I can’t save the world but can provide my patients with the best care possible. I’ve learned that I can’t be a good parent or caregiver if I don’t care for myself first. And we all need to look out for each other!

    • Debora, thanks so much for sharing your story too. We know compassion fatigue, burnout and suicide ideation are so prevalent in all the medical fields! We agree – so important that we care for each other!!!!

  38. Pingback: Suicide is not a joke - Dr Mom Vet

  39. I’m surprised that the suicide rate of Veterinary Technicians isn’t higher. Were expected to perform like robots with an endless supply of energy by the Veterinarians the pay sucks the cost of school and getting certified is so far out of proportion with what our pay is and no matter where you go the other techs are always talking shit about you or someone else. The Dr’s treat us like we’re a piece of garbage barking orders constantly. I always have at least 4-5 cases going at the same time trying to keep everything straight in my head and always worried about losing my job because someone starts a rumor that ends up becoming gospel and then I’m confronted with something I’m completely oblivious to because it has no basis in truth. The field is dominated by women and as a guy let me tell you they are mean jaded and pushy and just nasty to work with. I went into this career wanting to help animals and educate their owners on how to take better care of their pets. Its not the way it is because everyone in this business sucks all the joy out of you till you’re burnt out. And then they kick you even harder when you’re down. I went into this career late I started at the age of 44 and now 4 years later I feel like I’m 80 thanks to all the mean spirited people, the crappie pay, long hours, and lack of satisfaction.

    • Agreed. 🙁 We need good mental health for BOTH veterinarians and veterinary technicians! It’s a hard field!

    • Sorry Bradley, I feel for you. This field is crazy stressful. I wish we could lighten your load and double your pay.

  40. This field is crazy. 12 hour days. No lunches( 8/10 days). Fast unrelenting pace. A profession driven by dollars and dominated by workaholics and perfectionists. I am having a hard time.
    What I want:
    1. Time to be empathetic to those that suffer.
    2. TIME to sit down, think and create better process and learn. I don’t want to stand for 11 hours, and race through records at the end of the day and think please someone give me 2 beers….
    3. I want to work hard for 8 hours and call it quits for the day.
    4. Have a work life balance.
    5. Actually have time to chat and build a work environment with co-workers and create a community that I want to be in.
    6. I do not want to work like a slave. I want to be paid what I am worth, that’s right, paid so that I can pay my loans and have a middle class American life where I can actually have a house and possibly open my own office… before I am so old that I can no longer stand. And have my team be paid what they are worth.
    I am beginning to think … this does not exist.

  41. I left the field entirely after 2 years, going from one dysfunctional practice to another. The lack of mentorship (despite it constantly being offered in the beginning), the toxic and abusive work environments (who can tolerated 12-14 hrs/day of that?) left me overwhelmed and disillusioned with the profession. I decided it would be better for my sanity to walk away from it altogether, even though it now means it’ll take me decades to repay my debt. I’m so close to hurling myself off a bridge now. :O

    • Oh exvet, that’s terrible to hear. Please don’t do anything like that and reach out to suicide prevention resources. It’s ok to take time off for self-care. You WILL find a good practice… but take the time you need to take care of you first…

  42. Pingback: Cyberbullying and Cyberharassment: Don't stand for it. - Garret Pachtinger, VMD, DACVECC

  43. I have been a veterinarian for 23 years. Been a practice owner, mobile solo vet, and an associate. Have given my life to the profession. Overall impression? A complete and total waste of my life so far. Where else can I bend over backward for people and in return receive such negative feedback? Why would I spend days and nights caring for your pet and receive hateful comments regarding the high cost of care, or better yet, the run to report you to the state board for something deemed unforgivable. How awesome it is to live in a place where an owner can spew damaging rhetoric about you based on an opinion formed after receiving an invoice for a farm call, at which time, that owner was extremely friendly and seemed happy with the visit?!? How wonderful it is to hear, “you guys are just trying to make more money”, when I have to find work outside of my salaried position in order to pay bills. What grateful, gracious, and loyal people our clients have become. How I would love to visit with James Herriot and show him what veterinary medicine is like now, and how I wish I had never read his books as a child. How I wish that I could have figured out some other career before I got this far. I have been able to travel and I know the income accrued over time is more than many make , which just adds to the guilt felt by being so unhappy with this profession. Not to mention feeling trapped in a life that you can’t exit because you don’t have another means of income. Suicide seems to be the most rewarding option. I have nothing left to give these people.

    • We feel you. I’ve been a veterinarian for 19 years and know how you feel. Please reach for help if needed, but more importantly, please know that you ARE making a difference to those pet owners out there. Maybe not all will appreciate it, but all the patients you are treating are really appreciative. Keep doin’ what you’re doing. And THANK YOU.

    • I was raised in a family where i learned my lessor value by the age of 5, and suspected as much at four, but was still learning. I understand that children from highly accomplished families are sometimes left with the same sort of feeling of worthlessness, because first of all you are making A’s and there is no step up from there, and secondly and more importantly as in your case, the value of self is not there unless making straight A’s. I totally understand this, and I think you have nailed your depression on the head! (so to speak) You yourself mentioned this fact, and later you mention you have nothing left to give these people. It sounds very similar to the grades issues. However, may I ask you why you think you are there to give those people anything? I’m not religious, but I understand that somewhere it is written to love or/and care for the earth and the animals, and I think that is one of our MOST important acts a human being can offer the world. Anyone, almost, can have a baby, other than myself, and yet not everyone has the ability to love animals. In fact, your job is of such great importance that as an RN, retired 20 years early due to Lyme disease, (I should interject the idea of suicide brought me here) I can see there are those people who wouldn’t recognize a gift if life if they went to heaven and returned, but every animal knows a gift…and is grateful for that gift, also. and your talent is SO appreciated by those of us who can give medicine to manic patients three times our size, but can’t get a pill down the throat of our own pets, which I can report first hand. The numbers of people who actually offer medical care for animals who cannot verbalize their needs, and are so often traumatized are too few. You create happiness where it really matter, as love begats love. Thank you for bearing the dissappointments of man to save the lives of earth’s precious animals who are not able to adequately care for themselves. There is SO much more to do. Sometimes we get more self-focused because life seems to be getting out of our control, sometimes our focus is acquired by our feelings of inadequacies, and sometimes our focus is altered by how we are thinking, and if we can change either thought, feeling or behavior, then we can alter our paths. For example, change how we think about success reslting in lowered expectations and more self-acceptance, and more indivualized peace that we are searching for in our trip to self-actualization.
      God’s speed.

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