You’d never know it by looking at us, but veterinarians are four times more likely to commit suicide than the average person—that’s according to a study conducted last year in the UK and reported on in DVM Newsmagazine this month..

British researchers were stumped when they reached this conclusion and are currently undertaking a new study to determine what factors might be at play in such dire news.

I’d read about this about a year back and was impressed by the extremely high rates of suicide in my profession. Sure, I personally knew at least three vets who committed suicide. I know of at least five other such tragedies through friends. And yet the numbers still shock me.

I mean, why??

We’ve got the best job in the world…mostly, anyway. I complain a lot but it’s far better than sitting at a desk rifling papers and hanging on the telephone, right? Apart from this, I can’t think of many other jobs I’d consider. Chef? Maybe. Goat farmer? OK, I’ll take that one but I’d never live off that one in a million years…not in Miami, anyway.

The British researchers were similarly confounded, leading to a variety of hypotheses on the subject:

1-Vets are more comfortable with the concept of euthanasia, desensitized as we are by the frequent application of this procedure.

2-Vets have high stress jobs due to compassion fatigue, long work hours and economic stress.

3-Vets are pleasers. We have personalities predisposed to making our clients happy, thus adding to our stress levels when we can’t meet their demands.

4-Vets are sensitive…very sensitive. Perhaps not all of us, but many of us have personality types predisposed to depression. I like to think we care more deeply than the average person about how those who can’t speak for themselves deserve to be treated.

5-Vets have planned long and hard for their careers. We’ve invested our identities in this profession and suffer disillusionment very acutely once the realization of our dissatisfaction hits us.

6-Vets have access to drugs…hard drugs...lethal drugs.

These six risk factors are only our best guesses. And to my sensibilities they seem mostly right. But it’s still shocking.

When I was  kid I could think of nothing that would make me so happy as being a vet. As an adult I still feel the same way. Nonetheless, I can understand the disillusionment, the stress, the money thing, the compassion fatigue, the sensitivity…even the depression. But I can’t fathom the killing myself thing.

I can only hope that studies like this will help other vets reach the same conclusion.