COMPARED to the general public, doctors and other health professionals are known to have double the risk of suicide but veterinary surgeons have double that risk again.

In an effort to identify factors contributing to such high vulnerability within the profession, researchers at the UK’s University of Southampton School of Medicine reviewed studies relevant to the mental health of vets dating back to 1970.

The evidence pointed to a complex interplay between personality factors common to high achievers (such as neuroticism, conscientiousness and perfectionism) and career-related factors including work isolation and stress.

Predictably, environmental factors including the professional and social isolation of private practice were also important, as was ready access to lethal drugs such as barbiturates.

But it may be a more permissive attitude to suicide, arising from the profession’s familiarity and exposure to euthanasia, which sets vets apart from their medical colleagues.

“The veterinary profession’s role in providing animal euthanasia and so facilitating a ‘good death’ may normalise suicide, with death perceived as a rational solution to intractable problems,” the paper’s authors wrote.

They said research is urgently needed to identify whether veterinary school applicants might be predisposed to mental health problems and whether vet students develop maladaptive coping strategies during training.

Vet Rec 2010; 166: 388-397.

Posted: 5 July, 2010

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