Murdoch Uni studying reasons for high suicide rates among vets

Dean Huxley with vet Szou Whua Bosci at NativeARC. Picture: Will Russell   d468330
Dean Huxley with vet Szou Whua Bosci at NativeARC. Picture: Will Russell d468330

VETERINARIANS are nearly four times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, prompting a Murdoch University study into the reasons why and factors that can protect animal carers.

Compassion fatigue is potentially life-threatening and care-giving professionals like vets, doctors, nurses and even dentists are at risk.

Doctors and nurses take their own lives at twice the average rate.

Murdoch University provisional psychologist and PhD candidate Karen Connell is asking vets to complete an anonymous survey to help her better understand their mental wellbeing, and their client and colleague relationships.

She encouraged all vets, including those who feel they are coping well, to participate.

Cockburn wildlife rescue service NativeARC runs three free workshops a year for hundreds of its volunteers and others working or volunteering in caring professions.

NativeARC manager Dean Huxley said he started the Self Care for Animal Care Givers workshops three years ago, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Booragoon.

“For us, being a not-for-profit organisation, we take on a lot of volunteers,” Mr Huxley said.

“If we don’t look after the volunteers, we can’t look after the animals.”

After a decade in the industry, he felt there was a lack of training in the field and worked with vets and counsellors to devise the workshops.

Mr Huxley encouraged people working in animal care to attend a forum before they started to develop burnout.

“For anyone in a care-giving profession, there is not one thing that will work for everyone so people must do their research,” he said.

Vet Szou Whua Bosci graduated two years ago and has attended two workshops.

“I now understand a bit more about the signs to look out for in myself and in friends and other vets,” Dr Bosci said. “We’re told going into uni that vets have a high suicide rate and to maintain a work-life balance.”

She needed to maintain self-care the most when faced with long days or following a week in which many suffering animals were put down.

Walking daily and using a calming thought process combined with setting time limits on her working day helped her ward off compassion fatigue.

Professor Irwin also said a key goal of the international VetSet2Go project, which Murdoch’s vet school is leading, includes the promotion of wellbeing and resilience among new vets.

The survey is available at

To register for the next Self Care for Animal Care Givers workshop in July visit

Anyone in crisis should speak to their GP or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Compassion fatigue symptoms
• Chronic physical ailments such as gastrointestinal problems and recurrent colds
• Apathy, sad, no longer finds activities pleasurable
• Difficulty concentrating
• Mentally and physically tired
• Preoccupied
• In denial about problems
Visit for more.

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