Journal Scan: Probing the link between veterinarians' suicide risk and performing euthanasia
Why they did it
Performing euthanasia has been implicated as a contributing factor to mood disorders and suicide among veterinarians. This study’s authors sought to investigate the association between euthanasia, depression and suicide risk among practicing veterinarians.
What they did
The researchers surveyed 540 practicing veterinarians in Australia ranging in age from 23 to 74 years old. Among those surveyed, approximately 64% were women, 61% were small-animal practitioners and 71% practiced in average income areas. Depression and suicide risk assessments were based on validated, self-report questionnaires. Veterinarians were asked to note how many times they performed euthanasia, on average, over the past 12 months and how many were requested for reasons they did not agree with (objectionable euthanasia).
What they found
The study’s authors found gender was not a significant predictor of suicide risk. However, the practice area’s socioeconomic status (SES) was a significant factor in suicide risk. Veterinarians practicing in low-SES areas experienced a suicide risk (44.3%) almost double that of veterinarians practicing in average-SES areas (28.5%). They were almost four times more likely to have an increased risk of suicide compared with those in high-SES areas (11.3%). Additionally, veterinarians who had been practicing longer were found to be less depressed compared with those with less time since graduation (P < 0.01).
Overall, the researchers found a weak association between depression, suicide risk, and the frequency of euthanasia (P < 0.01). The results suggest there are other factors contributing to the mental well-being of veterinarians. Notably, the authors found “that a greater number of euthanasia procedures performed appeared to attenuate the relationship between depressed mood and the odds of suicide risk” and administering objectionable euthanasia did not impact depressed mood or suicide risk.
The authors propose that while “euthanasia frequency was only related to 1% of the variation in depression,” these study results may indicate veterinarians are successful at implementing strategies (e.g. emotional distancing) that protect them from euthanasia’s negative effects.
The researchers note these results should be interpreted with caution since causation could not be conclusively determined, and individual veterinarian characteristics may affect the results.
The relationship between euthanasia, depression and suicide risk among veterinarians is complex and further studies are warranted, which may elucidate triggers or risk predictors.
Tran L, Crane MF, Phillips JK. The distinct role of performing euthanasia on depression and suicide in veterinarians. J Occup Health Psychol 2014;19(2):123-32.
Link to abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24635739