Dr. Shirley Koshi, 55, a Bronx veterinarian, took her life in 2014 after an angry client harassed her in public and online, according to New York Daily News.
It was the sad culmination of financial problems at her Gentle Hands clinic and the frustration of being publicly humiliated. According to experts, Koshi’ssuicide mirrored a trend that’s becoming a national concern.
A recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that veterinarians in the United States are at an increased risk of suicide. In fact, female veterinarians were found to be 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population while their male counterparts were 2.1 times more likely to take their lives. Seventy-five percent pf the vets who took their own lives — often with the very drugs they use for their patients — worked at a small animal hospital.
According to The Washington Post, today’s veterinarians are vulnerable to depression and suicide because they are often deeply in debt from sky-high student loans, suffering from compassion fatigue and are at the mercy of angry pet owners who attack them on social media.
The CDC report also lists poor work-life balance, demands of practice such as long hours, work overload, and practice management responsibilities as factors that can trigger suicide.
“Our findings suggest mortality from suicide among veterinarians has been high for some time — spanning the entire 36-year-period we studied,” said CDC director Robert R. Redfield M.D. “This study shines a light on a complex issue in this profession. Using this knowledge, we can work together to reduce the number of suicides among veterinarians.”
Dr. Judy Kuriansky, a leading psychologist and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to a Healthy Relationship,” tells questsin that the system makes good veterinary care difficult.
“Vets are compassionate and caring doctors who have the same time and financial restraints as human doctors but without the big income, so they are even more stressed out with the policies and restrictions,” she says. Indeed, according to The Washington Post. the average veterinary student graduates with over $143,000 in debt and veterinary salaries start at about $67,000 annually.
“Vets are also asked to euthanize pets at their owner’s discretion which can be challenging if they are forced to put aside their expert opinion,” says Kuriansky. “The pet owner may feel that the cost of diagnostics is too high and make an end of life decision.”
This can lead to what researchers call an “ethical conflict and moral distress.”
Kuriansky suggests that veterinary schools could include mental health training to deal with these issues and offer tools to help them realize what is within and without their control.
“You have to understand that if you’ve done your best, it’s not your fault if the owner irrationally blames you for Fido’s condition and while detachment sounds cold, it’s really about self-preservation,” she says.
Another way to help alleviate distress is to buy pet insurance. That way, owners may be more likely to allow vets to treat their pets properly.
Not One More Vet is a non-profit organization founded by Dr. Nicole McArthur in 2014 that has grown into an international group of veterinarians who lend support to their colleagues. NOMV has spearheaded a nationwide mental health effort and created a program to offer financial assistance to veterinarians who cannot afford mental health care.
“At the end of the day, our first priority is training people about what to do when someone expressed the desire to die,” says Carrie Jurney, a veterinary neurologist and NOMV board member tells The Washington Post.