I remember my first thoughts of suicide were when I was in fourth grade. I did not have a particularly difficult childhood, there was no abuse or neglect. I may not have been popular or had a lot of friends, but I was generally a happy kid. I don’t remember why I had these thoughts. I do remember going for long walks. I would sing at the top of my voice in the middle of no where. I would cry to let out pain that I didn’t understand. I remember being depressed in high school and college. Not just the “I’m sad today” or “regular teenage angst,” but the black abyss with no light and no hope for the future. I would have trouble getting out of bed, but I would do it so no one would know that anything was wrong.
While in college, I finally discussed my problems with a doctor. I was diagnosed with moderate depression with generalized anxiety. I did not get any treatment at this time. I felt somewhat vindicated as when I had spoken with people prior (not medical professionals), I would be told, “Get over it. It is all in your head.” Now, I knew it was all in my head, but now I knew why. This explained why when someone was late, my brain went to one of two scenarios: 1. The person/people hated me and were not coming or 2. They were in a major accident and were on the side of the road bleeding to death. I am not sure which scenario was more difficult, although the second made me feel guilty for being angry that they were late while they were dead.
Fast forward to September 11, 2001, thousands of people did not go home to their families that day. This shook me to the core. I finally went for help. My first few years of veterinary school were split between school and seeing a psychologist. They wanted to start me on medication, but due to some personal issues with medication and suicide (another story that I may never share on a public forum), I couldn’t bring myself to take them. I knew that one of the potential side effects was to have enough energy to actually commit suicide. I couldn’t do that to my family and friends.
At the same time, studies were coming out about veterinarians having the highest suicide rate of any other professional. I don’t remember all of the numbers at the time, but it was significantly higher than the general population and other professionals. I petitioned the school to have a counselor on site – in the veterinary school building, not just on campus. I spoke with multiple people. I went into my final year, but no longer had the time to see the psychologist or to continue petitioning the school. When I came back to school after an externship out-of-town, I learned that another veterinary student committed suicide while I was gone. I was devastated. I felt guilty; that I should have been able to prevent this, despite only knowing the individual in passing. Since then a counselor has been placed in the veterinary school for students, staff, clients, anyone that needs the support.
I graduated from veterinary school over 9 years ago. Since then, I know many veterinarians that have committed suicide and many more that have attempted suicide. The problem has not been improving. There are more studies being done to figure out why the rates are so high, but there has not been a solution found. Hopefully, anything that is found will help not only the veterinary community, but also the general public. Mental illness, depression, suicide are all topics that get pushed under the rug until something happens to spotlight them.
Today, I learned that Dr. Sophia Yin, an amazing veterinarian, animal advocate, lecturer, and person died via suicide. I don’t know what her struggle was. I don’t know why she chose this path to death. I don’t know a lot of things, but I do know that the world lost a beautiful person. I do not condone the action of suicide, but I do understand why people can feel it is the only way out of a mind fraught with anguish. My heart, thoughts, and prayers, go out to the Yin family, friends, the veterinary community, and the world.
When on those walks many years ago, one Bible verse would repeat in my head. Isaiah 40:31, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They will rise up with wings as eagles. They will run and not grow weary; walk and not faint.” It was a long road, one I still sometimes struggle with, but when I wait upon the Lord, my strength is renewed. When I no longer try to hold the world in my control, I can let Him take control and life is not as hard. I have had people tell me this makes me weak. That I am less of a person. That I am stupid, illogical, and uneducated for believing in God. I will tell you, yes, I am weak, that is why I need Him. I am not worthy of His love, yet he grants it to me. I am not stupid. I am not illogical. I am not uneducated. I am honored to place my trust and faith in God.
If you, or someone you know, is thinking about suicide or that life is just too much to handle please, ask for help. Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (in the USA) or find a professional that can help. You are not alone. There is a light, even if you can’t see it right now. It takes a long time to retrain your brain, it may require medication, but life can get better.