Lately, I find myself heartbroken and worried for my colleagues and fellow human beings, and I hope you will humor me as I use this platform to share my feelings with you.
Recently, the veterinary community lost an amazing doctor, Dr. Sophia Yin, to suicide.
Earlier this year you may have read about Dr. Shirley Koshi, a veterinarian in New York who took her life after a long struggle with members of her community over her efforts to care for a stray cat.
I learned, as a freshman in vet school, that suicide and depression among veterinarians was a known problem. They called it compassion fatigue – the result of years of pouring yourself into your patients and not having a coping mechanism to separate yourself from the emotions of each case. They warned us, bright-eyed and naive freshmen that we were, to be sure to care for ourselves and avoid compassion fatigue. Easy, peasy.
Maybe it should have been apparent to me that burn-out is a precursor to compassion fatigue. Burn-out is described by one source as a “cumulative process marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with increased workload and institutional stress”. It makes sense that burn-out will eventually progress to compassion fatigue, but I wasn’t aware of that when I experienced my own burn-out.
I think I was blessed to be able to leave my job at the clinic right when I did. I was headed at mack-truck speed and velocity right into the middle of compassion fatigue and depression.
Now, I have a history of depression. That may surprise many of you, because I am usually so bright and cheery in public. But I am not ashamed to say I have struggled with that dark cloud, and overcome it. Many times it threatens to return and set up camp, but I have learned mechanisms to cope with it through counseling, stress management techniques, and prayer.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because I believe that it is of the utmost importance that we not hide our struggles from our fellow man. The hidden struggle does not go away on its own. There is no person in the world who doesn’t struggle with a dark cloud of their own, but they might do a great job of disguising it.
That person needs to know that they have someone they can share their struggle with. That they are not alone. That we understand, and we are here to help in whatever way we can. That we all need a break. We all need a way to heal, cope, protect ourselves, and be authentic.
My fellow veterinarians – your risk of suicide is four times higher than other professions. Please talk to someone about your burn-out, or your depression, or your compassion fatigue, and find a way to heal.
My fellow human beings – your feelings are worth sharing with someone. There is someone in your life who wants to hear what you have to say, and wants to help you understand that you are not alone. Be brave, and take a chance on sharing your struggle with someone.
If you are in a good place right now, will you reach out to someone around you and let them know that they are not alone? Your small gesture could be the difference between life and death.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from the loss of Dr. Yin, it’s this: We all have something to contribute to this world, no matter how small it may seem. We may feel insignificant and alone, but our lives DO have purpose, and we will be desperately missed when we’re gone.
YOU are loved.