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Veterinary surgeons and suicide: a structured review of possible influences on increased risk
  1. D. J. Bartram, BVetMed, DipM, MCIM, CDipAF, FRCVS1 and
  2. D. S. Baldwin, MB, BS, DM, FRCPsych1
  1. 1Division of Clinical Neurosciences, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, RSH Hospital, Brintons Terrace, Southampton SO14 0YG

Abstract

Veterinary surgeons are known to be at a higher risk of suicide compared with the general population. There has been much speculation regarding possible mechanisms underlying the increased suicide risk in the profession, but little empirical research. A computerised search of published literature on the suicide risk and influences on suicide among veterinarians, with comparison to the risk and influences in other occupational groups and in the general population, was used to develop a structured review. Veterinary surgeons have a proportional mortality ratio (PMR) for suicide approximately four times that of the general population and around twice that of other healthcare professions. A complex interaction of possible mechanisms may occur across the course of a veterinary career to increase the risk of suicide. Possible factors include the characteristics of individuals entering the profession, negative effects during undergraduate training, work-related stressors, ready access to and knowledge of means, stigma associated with mental illness, professional and social isolation, and alcohol or drug misuse (mainly prescription drugs to which the profession has ready access). Contextual effects such as attitudes to death and euthanasia, formed through the profession’s routine involvement with euthanasia of companion animals and slaughter of farm animals, and suicide ‘contagion’ due to direct or indirect exposure to suicide of peers within this small profession are other possible influences.

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