Suicidal behaviour and psychosocial problems in veterinary surgeons: a systematic review

Abstract

Purpose

Rates of suicide are elevated among veterinary surgeons in several countries, yet little is known about contributory factors. We have conducted a systematic review of studies investigating suicidal behaviour and psychosocial problems in veterinary surgeons.

Methods

A systematic search of the international research literature was performed in May 2008. Data from 52 studies of non-fatal suicidal behaviour, mental health difficulties, stress and burnout, occupational difficulties, and psychological characteristics of veterinary surgeons were extracted by two independent reviewers and analysed. Studies were rated for quality and greater emphasis placed on findings from higher quality studies.

Results

The majority of studies were of stress and occupational difficulties experienced by veterinary surgeons. Occupational stressors included managerial aspects of the job, long working hours, heavy workload, poor work-life balance, difficult client relations, and performing euthanasia. Few studies investigated suicidal behaviour or mental health difficulties in the profession. Some studies suggested that young and female veterinarians are at greatest risk of negative outcomes such as suicidal thoughts, mental health difficulties, and job dissatisfaction.

Conclusions

The review highlights the difficulties faced by veterinary surgeons that may contribute to poor mental wellbeing and suicidal behaviour. Future research might include further examination of the influence of euthanasia on attitudes towards suicide and more direct examination of the impact that occupational risk factors might have on suicidal behaviour. Suggestions about the review’s implications for suicide prevention in this group are also made.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to acknowledge Lesley Sutton (LS) and Louise Harriss (LH) who assisted in the abstract and full-text screening stages of the review. Helen Fairnie, Keren Skegg, Austin Kirwan, Lin Fritschi and Rosie Allister, as experts in the field, identified references omitted from the search prior to full-text screening. This work was supported by Hill’s Pet Nutrition; the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Trust Fund; and the Veterinary Benevolent Fund (VBF). Keith Hawton is funded by Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and the National Institute for Health Research, for which he is a Senior Investigator. Sue Simkin is funded by an NIHR Programme Grant RP-PG-0606-1247 [“A multi-centre programme of clinical and public health research in support of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England”], for which Keith Hawton is a lead investigator.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the funding bodies.

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Correspondence to Belinda Platt.

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Platt, B., Hawton, K., Simkin, S. et al. Suicidal behaviour and psychosocial problems in veterinary surgeons: a systematic review. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 47, 223–240 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-010-0328-6

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Keywords

  • Suicide
  • Veterinarian
  • Systematic review
  • Wellbeing
  • Mental health
  • Occupation