As we proceed through life, the lessons keep coming and hopefully we are receptive to them. One of my most current lessons is both poignant and sad.
A colleague of mine is having problems. His practice was severely damaged by the great recession and has been slow to recover. Although he has been able to keep his head above water, the financial strain has taken a great toll. His health is suffering, he is unhappy in his work but chained to his practice financially, and his personal life is in shambles. I have repeatedly offered my help in the form of a receptive sounding board, and as a supportive friend and colleague. When my schedule allows, I drop by his clinic, offering to help with procedures, clients, and just being a relief valve offering a much needed opportunity to get away and hopefully decompress. My attempts to do so are appreciated, but more often than not as of late are proving to be a bit more of a hindrance than a help. No matter how bad things get, pride often gets in the way of well-intentioned help. This situation is no exception.
Being a member of a profession of which our basic function is to help, one of the most difficult things I personally experience is not being able or allowed to help in pretty much any situation. A pet experiences a near fatal incident and it is second nature for me to act and react almost instinctively. I know how to heal torn flesh, broken bones, and even in many cases, a broken heart in the more literal sense. Healing a broken heart and/or spirit in the figurative sense is another thing. To see a friend hurting is different and challenging. To be of help, one has to offer help and that offer has to be accepted. Easier said than done. The how of helping is often as important as the why help is needed, but the why is what is often questioned and not understood.
Recently, the results of the first mental health survey of U.S. veterinarians was published. The goal of the study was to increase and create awareness that veterinarians have a high prevalence of mental illness and promote the avaiibility of mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources. The results show veterinarians are more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders, experience bouts of depression, and have suicidal thoughts in comparison to the U.S. adult population. The data suggests that nearly 1 in 10 U.S. veterinarians might experience serious psychological distress. To be honest, I count myself in that 1 in 10. Most disturbing, more than 1 in 6 veterinarians might have contemplated suicide since their graduation from veterinary school.
The study found that 1.1 % of males and 1.4 % of females in the veterinary profession have attempted suicide since veterinary school. The reported suicide attempt rate of veterinarians is lower than the national average, but the survey authors strongly suggest these numbers are probably skewed since it is dealing with a population in which euthanasia is an accepted and common treatment modality and who has ready access to drugs, leaving fewer survivors to respond to a survey on suicide attempts. I have personally known 7 veterinarians who have committed suicide by self-euthanasia.
My sister-in-law and friend, Reverend Re’Nee Richie Teague frequently campaigns for mental health awareness, acceptance, and availability of services through her ministry and on Facebook. She should be commended and followed for her work because it brings home the inescapable fact we all know someone who is, has, or will experience mental health issues: a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend, even ourselves. Being aware and proactive, helpful and loving is in all our best self-interest.
Reach out and touch somebody’s hand… you know the rest so do it.
Dr. Pierre Bland is a small animal practitioner who offers office and house call appointments to his clients. His offices are located at 3225 N. Andrews Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL and can be reached at 954 673-8579.