Veterinarians face unique issues that make suicide one of the profession’s big worries

The job challenges that more than 70,000 veterinarians in the U.S. face have led to disproportionately high suicide rates./Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Melissa Chan| TIME

Dr. Will McCauley had just finished his shift at a small Dallas animal clinic when he went home, fed his pet pot-bellied pig and then held a loaded handgun to his head.

The 33-year-old veterinarian was wracked with student debt and worn down by the daily demands at work, which included euthanizing dogs and cats and being vilified by pet owners for not meeting their expectations. “I was tired in this miserable state of mind,” he says. “It just drained me so much.” For reasons he attributes to either fear or hope, McCauley didn’t kill himself that summer day in 2016, and he quit his job later that week and stopped practicing.

“I knew I had to make a change,” McCauley says. “I was dead on the inside.”

The job challenges that more than 70,000 veterinarians in the U.S. face have led to disproportionately high suicide rates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 400 veterinarians died by suicide between 1979 and 2015, according to a CDC study published in January that analyzed more than 11,000 veterinarian death records in that timeframe. The study also found that female veterinarians are up to 3.5 times more likely to kill themselves than members of the general population. “It really can be classified as an epidemic in my profession,” says McCauley, who is now 36 and working for a trade association in Washington.

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