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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 21:01 GMT 22:01 UK
Vet suicides outstrip UK average

The suicide rate among vets is nearly four times the national average and double that of doctors or dentists, according to new research.

Here is a selection of your comments:

Frustration and fatigue are a bad combination
Carly Short, Edinburgh, Scotland
Vet students, by the nature of what is required to get a place at vet school are high achievers, the course is extremely challenging and in many ways does not prepare a student for life in the 'real world'. After graduation the hum-drum everyday life of vaccinations and overweight dogs can seem a world away from the cutting edge technology and unlimited budgets available at the vet school clinics. Frustration and fatigue are a bad combination, particularly when lethal drugs are within reach.
Carly Short, Edinburgh, Scotland

I was married to a vet in a mixed farming and small animal practice for many years and in addition to the valid comments already made, I think that many vets find the strain of running a business as well as carrying out the duties they were trained for are a great burden to those who never envisaged being businessmen/women. In addition people are so used to free treatment on the NHS that they constantly snipe at vets for "overcharging" for drugs and services which must make them feel undervalued and unfairly treated. There are few vets who earn what the average GP earns but their training is just as long and arduous.
Shirley Parkin, Hope Valley, Derbys, UK

I think one major problem is the horrendous stigma attached to mental health. If anyone admits they are depressed, it will affect their whole credibility. This is true for everyone with a mental health problem, but I think within the veterinary profession prejudice is particularly high.
Alison, Chichester

In my experience the hours and pressurised conditions vets and vet nurses are expected to work in are far harder than most jobs. Many are at breaking point mentally and physically exhausted most of the time - and all this for a pretty meagre wage considering the job they do. No wonder they turn to alcohol and drugs to wind down and take their minds off their stressful day.
Kate, Surrey

I am a vet student at university in of Sri Lanka. I have just finished my first year. In our university we have to train in the hospital during my vacation. This experience means that I understand how to handle the animals and speak to the client beforehand and will help when I enter the field professionally.
Saman Gamage, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Being a vet is a way of life, not just a job

Simon, Gloucestershire
My father, who is now retired, started his life as a vet in the early 60's dealing with foot and mouth in Cheshire and ironically finished it in the Dales shortly after dealing with foot and mouth in 2002 with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Having watched him for over 30 years and being asked numerous times as I child if I was going to follow my dad and become a vet only to reply "no way, it is way too much like hard work", I am not surprised at the news but naturally saddened. Being a vet is a way of life, not just a job and I will always be very proud of what my dad achieved. Just think, when was the last time you called a doctor or a dentist at 3:00am in the morning and they were on your doorstep 30 minutes later.
Simon, Gloucestershire

It is a really big shame that vets, who for those of us unfortunate to have been put in situations where they make such important life and death decisions for our animals for us, have themselves decisions that no-one can make for them. I really hope that this is not a trend where increasing profit margins reflect increasing levels of stresses in life. Like those in more publicly viewed 'important' jobs, they should be protected, in terms of working hours and their health and have rights to counselling. It explains too simply why our armed forces/doctors/nurses are migrating - simply they can do their jobs elsewhere without too much stress and get the help needed when they ask!
Dan, London

I disagree with a point above stating that doctors and nurses have no access to emotional support or access to counselling training. The new curriculum which came into force nearly a decade ago addresses these issues and all doctors trained in the last decade have these skills. There are numerous help lines for health professionals, as well as help groups run by individual NHS trusts, which I honestly think are excellent. If vets do not have these facilities, then it is a real shame.
Michael Condon, Telford UK

In one way I am surprised because I did a lot of veterinary work experience and always came across quite chilled vets. However, I was also made aware of how many trainee vets were foreign or mature students and running up the kind of debts they had must be highly stressful. (One qualified vet I met had 22,000 of debt at the end of her degree, and she did quite well to keep it that low compared to most.)
Catherine Jackson, Nottingham, England

I wonder how animal welfare workers shape up against vets in this regard. Having been in that field for over 20 years, I can say that far more animal welfare people than vets are in the position of having to put animals down. And not just sick and elderly animals, but young, lively and healthy ones for whom no home can be found, but whose time in the shelter kennels has run out. Then there is the stress of dealing with the many cases of cruelty (both deliberate and neglectful) against animals - and the people who perpetrate these deeds. I wish in no way to denigrate vets, but I do envy them the pleasure and fulfilment they must feel when they are able to bring sick animals back to good health, whereas we seem to see the darker side of human-animal interaction.
Janine, South Africa

Half of her customers are horrified at the bills they're expected to pay and can become abusive
Duncan Henderson, Croydon
My wife has been practising as a Vet for over 7 years. She has worked both full-time and as a locum and has therefore experienced many different practices. She regularly has bouts of depression, but they are nearly always as a result of very long hours and having to deal with the public. Half of her customers are horrified at the bills they're expected to pay and can become abusive. Meanwhile, the salary paid to assistant vets is half of what a similarly qualified professional would earn in other industries. She also experiences a certain amount of gender discrimination and finds it difficult to get sponsorship for continuous professional development. Perhaps pet-owners should be required to have adequate insurance and perhaps, in this age of commercialism, practice-owners should be assisted in the nurture of their staff.
Duncan Henderson, Croydon

A vet course is the hardest UK degree course to get onto. All vet students have had straight A's for all their school lives, as well as excelling at extra-curricula activities. Learning how to deal with the fact that real life does not work like school and that there are no right answers will always affect those that have had it easy far more than those that have always had to struggle. Note also the high suicide rate amongst Oxbridge graduates of all subjects.
S, Cambridge

I am surprised and saddened by this news as I already knew doctors and farmers to be high on the list. I personally think it is very much to do with accessibility to quick means. I have always had animals and thus met many vets and most are kind and compassionate but not all and we need to remember that once trained it is a very lucrative career
Susan Caldwell, Wishbech, Cambridgeshire UK

I would just like to say thank you to all the hard working care workers; vets, doctors, nurses, you make a difference to society and without you we would all fall to pieces. I hope that vets are given greater support if they need it in the future.
Tom, Birmingham

It would be interesting to know if the suicide rates have risen in the last ten years since the BSE and then foot and mouth disasters. Vets having to dispatch healthy animals which they know will cause bankruptcy to depressed farmers must have felt a huge responsibility and emotional trauma that was unreported at the time in the media. It was also ignored completely by the government ministers instituting livestock policy.
Mike Trow, London, UK

A vet will often have more than 60 consultations every day
Jim, Windsor, UK
As I am married to a vet I am able to see the stress that they are placed under first hand. The stress is caused through a variety of factors, including that of dealing with the deaths of beloved pets, but, in my opinion, the biggest factor is the abuse (mainly verbal but sometimes physical) of vets and staff by some members of the public. As with society in general, there is a certain section who wish to cause trouble no matter what and see a vet as a likely target. A vet will often have more than 60 consultations every day and each one is a potential flashpoint. Then there is night duty and weekend duty (where a vet can be working for up to 72 hours without a proper break) that suffer the same problems only magnified as they do not have the support of the rest of the staff at these times. Coupled with the large amount of senseless litigation rife in Britain today, these factors alone make the veterinary profession one of the most difficult to work in society today. I have yet to meet a vet, working in a normal practice, who enjoys their job..
Jim, Windsor, UK

Vets love animals more than anyone else. That animals suffer far more than humans in terms of neglect in our society is the reason why vets are driven to despair and suicide.
Dennis Johnson, Montreal, Canada

At university it seems that vet students are privileged to be surrounded by like minded, intelligent people. Upon graduation however many find themselves working alone in rural communities with no one to answer to but themselves and without a close-knit circle of friends who understand the problems associated with the profession.
Mike, London

I think that this research has really bought to life how much stress vets have to deal with in their daily lives. It seems very sad that no help is offered to them, especially when they train in a profession for 6 to 7 years which is more of a vocation than a job. There needs a new helpline especially for people like this
Luke Willats, London

From the point of view of the foundation of the suicide figures, it would be interesting to know whether the police force and the army (with ready access to firearms and potentially equal or greater stress) have a higher suicide rates as well.
Walter Perotto, Basingstoke

I am an animal lover and a supporter of animal welfare. I grew up thinking I'd love to be a vet but when I realised the realities e.g. of sometimes having to put down healthy animals, and that many practices exist to make as much money as possible I decided against it. However, I do appreciate the stresses and strains vets are under and most of them do a great job. I agree that more needs to be done during training to help prepare them for when they start practising.
Maria, Moray

My partner is a vet for the PDSA (a charity). She often comes home stressed and tearful by the double pressure of abusive clients who expect the earth (some who are alcoholic or drug users themselves) and the prospect of having to kill animals, albeit for humane reasons. Working in private practice is no easier, particularly if you are a caring person. Should the cost of treatment have a bearing upon whether an animal lives or dies? This is a moral dichotomy in itself. I ask her what support there is from the BVA to deal with emotional stress and there doesn't appear to be any. Invariably we cope with it together but there ought to be more rigorous training or access to counselling in place.
Meredith Hurst, Manchester

Witnessing the cruelty that we inflict upon animals in this country, I am not surprised that the people who chose a profession to help animals feel depressed. 850 million chickens are killed annually in this country, most of which are raised in cruel factory farms, and all of whom meet a gruesome death in automated slaughter houses. Pigs, cows, sheep and other birds such as turkeys, geese and ducks do not fare any better. Over 43 Billion (43,000,000,000) farm animals are slaughtered annually, around the globe. With such systematic cruelty, on such a grand scale, should we be surprised that our compassionate vets, who are expected to monitor and minister to animals raised in a completely cruel and un-natural manner, where profit placed over welfare, feel like doing themselves in as a result?
Shyam, London, UK

I am a fourth year vet student and have worked in veterinary clinics for nine years. The work-life balance in the veterinary profession is appalling. Most vets regularly exceed 65 hours a week, and are not financially rewarded for over-time or night duty; in comparison to doctors or dentists, who are paid overtime. The framework for advancing careers is not well established and some become disheartened by the mundane aspects of the job. It is very hard to find flexible jobs which pay enough. The profession will have to change radically to accommodate the vast numbers of female graduates, who may wish to have a career and a family.
L Barry, Liverpool

I would urge anyone feeling desperate to seek help
Angela, London
As a Samaritan volunteer, I find these findings particularly worrying and I would urge anyone feeling desperate to seek help. Samaritans provides confidential emotional support, 24 hours a day for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide. You don't have to be suicidal to call us. We are here for you if you're worried about something, feel upset or confused, or you just want to talk to someone.
Angela, London

This comes as no surprise to me - a former close friend and neighbour who was a country vet suffered from a long period of depression after the foot-and-mouth episode, and finally took his own life (not using 'medical' methods) while staying in a convalescent home, apparently to 'recover', just over a year ago. Greatly missed.
Mike W, Midlands, UK

I agree that the high rate of suicides is probably, like that of doctors proportional to three things - knowledge of how to go about it, access to painless methods and familiarity with the process of dying - if you see death every day, it becomes less frightening.
Liz Elliot, Chorleywood, England

Anyone who has a pet understands the trauma of having a sick companion. Pets, particularly dogs give their love unconditionally to their owners and this close bond inevitably imposes severe stress to the vet who has to balance whether to give the owner another week of hope or to do what is best for an animal that is in obvious distress. Might I also add that this is a warning to those who would advocate doctors being given the power to euthanase patients.
John Williamson, Lincoln, England

I'm not convinced that having to put animals to sleep is the cause of the high suicide rate amongst vets. I have friends who work for the RSPCA as collection officers, and they frequently have to put injured wildlife to sleep. They don't find it upsetting, as they're pleased to be able to ease the animals suffering, and feel they are doing a worthwhile job (I wish I could say the same of my own office job). I think a more likely cause for this high rate is the length of training required to qualify as a vet, to then spend the majority of their time administering expensive and largely unneeded inoculations.
Sarah, Shipley, UK

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