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Preventing suicide in veterinary medicine

Preventing suicide in veterinary medicine

Suicide is a global public health problem and a human tragedy. The risk of suicide is higher among vets compared to the general public, and many colleagues want to know how they can better support and help people in crisis.

In this sense, Rosie Allistera veterinary mental health researcher, has published a manual of five evidence-based practical measures to prevent suicide in veterinary workplaces.

Suicidal grief can trigger deep and complex feelings of guilt or responsibility in some people. While this is a normal reaction, “it doesn’t mean these people were responsible or guilty for not doing enough,” Allister explains. Although suicide prevention programs sometimes emphasize “spotting the signs”, suicide is actually very difficult to predict at the individual level. “What we know from the science of suicide prevention is that the most effective interventions are broad, and these are the ones we are considering for implementation in veterinary workplaces.”

Since we spend a significant part of our lives in work, work environment, “Supervisors and colleagues play an important role in supporting and helping to prevent suicide“.


Work environment and professional culture are important factors in veterinary mental health. Some aspects of the veterinary profession’s identity can work to undermine the worker’s well-being and mental health. For example, “expectations of self-reliance, seeing asking for help as weakness or a wrongful obligation to prioritize work over other needs”.

Supporting good mental health is a key component of suicide prevention. “Managers and employers can promote a positive culture around mental health in the workplace if they have a clear strategy and leadership on issues related to workplace health,” says the expert.

These measures can include preventing discrimination and harassment, tackling mental health stigma and creating a workplace that is psychologically safe and where employees feel empowered to talk about their health issues, both physical and mental.

Working habits that are good for health emphasize the motivation of employees and not only through motivation, which can sometimes increase stress and strain, says the expert.

A positive work culture promotes belonging, respect, open communication and emotional well-being. Caring workplaces empower people to seek help when they need it and support each other.”


Allister points out that you don’t need specialized skills to support another person in crisis, but you can work to build a person’s confidence to be able to help others. “There is a range of training to support people who may be having suicidal thoughts. The basic rules are listen, don’t judge, empathize and create a plan with someone to promote mental health“.

Also, certain “first aid” roles are sometimes assigned to certain co-workers. “It can help boost a person’s self-confidence. However, it is very important that these colleagues have a support network, since no one should feel responsible for others“.

In general, some of the best signs of support are trust and active listening, especially from superiors. Many veterinary clinic employees already have these skills. So that “if you are worried about someone, ask him if he is ok, listen to what he says and support him in getting help if he needs it“.


It is also important for suicide prevention what staff have access to mental health supportand that this will be effective long before the crisis, recommends Allister.

“Programs must include support for issues such as mental health, physical health, domestic violence or financial insecurity, among other factors.”


Limiting access to places and substances that can be used for suicide is an important and effective strategy in prevention, says the expert. This is known as “means limitation” and it has been shown to reduce deaths in many different studies and from different suicide methods.

“The balance between financial constraints and easy access to drugs and other elements necessary in veterinary medicine needs to be carefully considered and adapted to the context of each clinic.”

That’s how it affects ithe importance of a responsible drug administrationincluding regular review of medication orders and storage.

Another type of planning that is important but very challenging, according to the expert, is to think in advance about suicide after considering what measures would be taken to protect other colleagues after a suicide attempt or death.

“Suicide grief is a known risk factor for the suicide of others. Post-suicide response can be an important step to protect personnel who may be vulnerable“.


Finally, the fundamental role of communication is emphasized. According to the expert, there are indications of that telephone numbers and messages encouraging to seek help on high-risk sitessuch as stickers placed in places where medicine is accessed, can be the key to reducing suicides.

“It is proven Asking someone at risk if they are having suicidal thoughts is not harmful and can help them get help. However, careful communication is important. How we talk about suicide in veterinary medicine in public spaces and on veterinary social media can influence suicide risk.

“While we must recognize the risks within the veterinary profession, it is important that we do not surrender to the fact that this risk is inevitable. Together we can work to support each other.”

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