National survey set to explore mental health of U.S. veterinarians

Previous studies have indicated that veterinarians appear to be at an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and mental health issues, but there still remains an information gap and a need for better prevention and intervention.

A new nationwide survey beginning July 1 will attempt to more accurately assess mental health issues and needs among veterinarians in the U.S. The study is being conducted through a collaborative effort including the Auburn University psychology department, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state agricultural agencies. 

The online survey is voluntary, completely anonymous, and takes only about 10 minutes to complete. 

The issue of suicide risk in the veterinary profession was previously discussed in a 2010 paper titled "Veterinary surgeons and suicide: a structured review of possible influences on increased risk of veterinarians in the U.K.," which was published in Veterinary Record. The review concluded that veterinarians have four times the risk of suicide than the general population, and approximately double the risk of other health care professionals.

Candace Joy, executive vice president of the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association (WSVMA), said she is relieved that there is now a serious effort under way to understand veterinarians' mental health needs, which could eventually offer her more support in keeping WSVMA members safe and healthy.

"This is an important issue for the profession to address and no one seems to be doing anything meaningful about it," Joy said. "The thing I dread the most is to get a call from a member who is considering suicide and it's up to me to provide compassion and the good listening skills combined with resources so they hopefully won't go through with it. I've had several of these calls over the years. Fortunately, I have a wonderful physician's health program and member volunteers I can contact for them if the person is open to talking."

Joy said the WSVMA gladly agreed to distribute the survey to Washington veterinarians in hopes that it would lead to more tools for veterinary medical associations to help their members.

"Raising awareness about depression and other mental health issues that are precursors to suicide would be a very positive outcome," she said. "Sharing survey results with our state physicians health program would be another goal so that they can better understand veterinarians and the risk factors. Perhaps it will enlighten us about how VMAs can provide better resources and programs for members with regard to mental health crises."

Joy encouraged veterinarians to take 10 minutes to complete the survey because it could help to create improved support systems for veterinarians in need.

"We're very concerned about the high rate of suicide within the profession and we feel that the more information and better understanding we have, the better positioned we'll be to help our colleagues in need," she said.

How to participate in this survey

Some veterinary medical associations and other organizations will be distributing the link to the survey to veterinarians, but veterinarians can also access the survey through the link in the JAVMA article