A lethal combination of client abuse, mental ill health and veterinary drug access has seen a concerning rate of suicides among veterinarians, but most vets feel restricting access to the drugs is just a band-aid over a much bigger problem.
[WARNING: This article mentions suicide] Since July 2000 veterinary drugs were used in 293 suicides in Australia – more than 18 deaths per year.
Recent coronial inquests into vet suicide from Queensland and South Australia have called for these drugs to be stored securely, with mandatory record-keeping, in an effort to stem the suicide rate.
Sunshine Coast Veterinary Director, Sarah Morton knows this devastating toll all too well, her senior vet and close friend, Jo took her own life in August last year.
“She was just such a beautiful girl, so lovely and incredibly intelligent… she touched everyone that she met,” Sarah said.
“She had a big case load, she had a lot of clients who adored her and we talked a lot about how we were coping and if anything was challenging with one another.”
Jo’s story is just one of hundreds that deeply affect vets in Australia, most know at least one colleague who has a mental health problem, has self-harmed or who has died by suicide.
With veterinary suicides occurring at a rate four times higher than the general public, and double that of other health professionals, most veterinary boards recommend that these lethal drugs be locked away.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which regulates access to veterinary drugs, is currently deciding whether to increase restrictions to make them a Schedule 8 controlled drug and will deliver their final decision on August 24.
But the industry’s peak body, the Australian Veterinary Association, do not believe that change will decrease suicide rates in the industry.
In a submission to the TGA, the peak body said changing the drug’s classification would “add an ineffective level of administration for no net public benefit” because of the requirement to record and report quantities used.
“There is concern that the regulatory reporting requirements will impede the delivery of timely and efficient veterinary services, and have potential animal welfare consequences as a result,” it said.
The AVA instead wants regulation to ensure the drug is locked away when not in use.
However, with a quarter of vets reporting they experience depression, and even more feeling high levels of stress, the answers to Australia’s veterinarian suicide rate are sparse.
“There’s so much that we need to do as an industry to support people who want to go into this industry,” Sarah said.
“We really need to mentor the students into understanding themselves and starting to learn their own mental health abilities.”
“To improve themselves, to be able to cope with all the things that you are faced with.”