Caring for those who care for the animals we love on World Suicide Prevention Day

10 September 2021

Many people choose to work with animals because they want to help them. They often have a strong sense of empathy with and compassion for those who aren’t able to tell us what’s wrong. They want to understand them, be their voice and stop their suffering. 

But all too often, the reasons people are drawn to this field are the same that ultimately drive them from it.

Compassion fatigue, client demands, long hours, financial worries and witnessing animals suffering are some of the factors vets and those in the industry cite as some of the reasons they experience burnout, stress or anxiety

A recent American study showed that veterinarians are three times more likely to take their own lives than members of the general population.

This World Suicide Prevention Day we hear from the vets and bear carers who work quietly, tirelessly and heroically to heal the broken bears we rescue and reflect on how important it is to care for those who care for the bears, and all the animals we love. 

Molly Feldman, Vet and Senior Bear Team Manager, China Bear Rescue Centre

“We get into this field because we love animals and just want to help them. However, what so many of us don’t realise is that our empathetic souls also need an extreme amount of care to support us through this work.

“As givers by nature, this can be a hard thing to come to terms with and even harder to actually put into practice. Compassion fatigue and burnout are the insidious consequences of not looking after ourselves. We simply cannot keep giving day after day and expect to be OK. 

“The good news is that experiencing these issues does not mean we’re broken, or not strong enough, or not cut out for this work. It means we’re trying with everything we have to stay present with some very harsh realities and our bodies and minds are no longer able to cope effectively. 

“This was a hard-learned lesson for me and one that came after years of fighting through anger, sadness, apathy, confusion and, at times, deep despair. I would really urge anyone who works in the same or a similar field to understand that it’s not a matter of if you will experience some form of trauma but when, and that’s OK.

“If we can start at this place of acceptance, I truly believe we can find better support for one another and eventually make this a part of the foundation of any organisation that works to rescue, care for or generally help animals in need.”

Shaun Thomson, Senior Veterinary Surgeon, Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre

“I don't find the argument, “you only have one life so make the most of it” a compelling one against suicide. 

“I do find the argument that pulls me away from considering it more than a fleeting thought in the darkness - which many of us have experienced - is that while it could end my own suffering, it would cause immense suffering to others. 

“I also feel there are some things that we do that, if we hadn't done, no-one else would have, like making a person’s or an animal's life better.

“And then there’s the butterfly effect; there are also so many things we do that have an impact on others that we will never know about and can’t be tied back to us.

“So if you are feeling that it's not worth taking the chance to do that anymore and can't shake that feeling, it is time to seek help from someone. There is a chance that one day you will do something that positively impacts someone in ways that you will never know.”

Ryan Marcel Sucaet, Bear & Vet Team Director, China Bear Rescue Centre

“I believe most people at some point have personally been affected by suicide, either directly or indirectly. 

“I have lived in the wake of suicides and attempted suicides throughout my young and adult life and it is a confusing, traumatic and sad place to be, however it wouldn’t compare to how the suffering individual felt at the time. 

“The conversations and awareness around mental health and suicide have evolved in the last few decades for the better. 

“Rather than masking the discussions surrounding suicide, we should be encouraging our friends, families and colleagues to open up the conversation and to provide hope, support and outlets. 

“We can all take part in this suicide preventionand bring awareness to such a profound topic, and it starts with kindness.”

If you would like to find out more about getting support, whether you want to help someone else or want to access support for yourself, please see a list of resources below. 

Read more:

Support for vets NOMV | Vetlife 

Support for anyone needing support Global | UK | UK | Australia | Australia | Australia | New Zealand | US | US | US

“As the vet I have to keep it together – but inside my heart is breaking”