Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A serious post about veterinarians and the importance of support

Bosca meets Scarlett on the beach. Note Phil's awesome photobomb! I didn't notice this til I downloaded the pic. 
Dr Brian McErlean is a veterinarian, AVA Benevolent Fund Trustee and champion of veterinary wellbeing. I met him for the first time at the AVA Conference in Perth where he MC’d the debut performance of the wonderful Australian Veterinary Orchestra.

The profession through organisations like the AVA is extremely committed to mental health, but ensuring everyone gets the help and support they need is no easy task. I have known for some time that veterinarians have a higher suicide rate than the general population, but it hit home in a major way this year, with the loss of three vets and one nurse that I have personally known. It’s one thing processing abstract statistics, quite another when you know someone who takes their life.

The enormity of the problem hit home like a kick in the guts. The efforts of people like Brian are so important. He has a simple message that he wants to get out there to encourage help seeking behaviours and treatment of depression.

“Many veterinarians are surrounded by lethal substances 24/7. Those that cascade into the severe untreated depression category (3.9% for veterinarians against 2% in the general population) are the concern.  Should this group have access to lethal substances they are high risk.

For this reason we have to encourage veterinarians to get depression treated early before any cascade to the worst forms. They should also gate keep their colleagues.

Depression is relatively common but suicidal intent is relatively rare and usually fleeting. When suicidal intent is real individuals cannot be left alone.

All you have to do is ask if they have thought of harming themselves and if they have a plan. Those that answer in the affirmative to both questions are high risk. They must see a doctor or be taken to the hospital.

We would not leave a diabetic dog without insulin, why would we leave a
depressed colleague without neurotransmitters?

We just have to get the mental health message out there in perpetuity as we can’t take the drugs from them.

Nurses and pharmacists also have access to lethal drugs and have a suicide rate twice that of the general population.

In the USA if you have a gun in the house it increases the suicide risk by a factor of 3. Veterinarians have a “gun” in the house!”

For urgent help anyone can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24 hours).AVA members can call the AVA Telephone Counselling Service (24 hours) on 1800 337 068.

Thanks Brian. I honestly had NOT thought about it like this before. Clearly access to drugs to perform euthanasia is key to our ability to alleviate profound suffering, and no one wants to jeopardise that. But we are human beings. Is there a level of risk to ourselves that we have to take into this equation? I’d love to hear people’s thoughts.


This is an article I wrote about burnout and depression in the vet profession.
And another link to mental health resources here.

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