Suicide and Occupations: A Surprise?

Suicide is a public health crisis in this country, but it is not something we usually think about in choosing an occupation.  We tend to look upon entering a profession such as being a pharmacist or lawyer as the gold standard of success.  Why should such people turn their thoughts to taking their own lives?

Wrong.  Among the top 10 occupations whose suicide rate is greater than the national average are scientists, pharmacists, lawyers, doctors, dentists and financial workers.  Added to this list are real estate agents, electricians, and police officers. In fact more police officers kill themselves in a given year than are killed in the line of duty.  The only truly low-paying occupation on this list not requiring significant education and training is farm workers.

The stress in these lines of work generate pressures that individuals cannot bear.  The specific pressures vary of course from occupation to occupation and from individual to individual.  So does access to lethal means.  A recent article in the New York Times on the suicide of a police chief reveals that it was the stress of having to give up a job he loved due to mandatory retirement policies, not the pressures of the job itself,  that led to his taking his life.

But what is happening to the suicide rate among veterinarians gives some idea of extent of the problem.  Male veterinarians currently commit suicide at twice the national average while female veterinarians, who are now in the majority in that profession, commit suicide three and half times the national average. Part of the pressure comes from the fact that veterinary school is quite expensive while average starting salaries are low.  So the specter of debt hangs over these professionals as they try to set up a practice, buy a house, start a family.  Their workload can lead to compassion fatigue and burn-out, especially when you think of the number of euthanasias they are now called upon to perform.  Added to this is attacks on social media by unhappy clients that can often turn vindictive and damaging to a veterinarian’s reputation.  Mix this with easy access to drugs that are used to put down their patients and you have a health care crisis among animal health care providers. (

There are no easy answers here, but the very first is to acknowledge that our idea of success is much too simplistic.  Preparation for these jobs should include realistic expectations and stress the importance of reaching out for help when times get tough.  Many in professional positions are used to being in charge, being the ones handing out the advice.  A different mindset is definitely needed.















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