Preventing Suicide

 

The veterinary profession is concerned that veterinarians currently have the highest rate of suicide amongst professionals. It is a record that nobody wants to have.

It is a terrible statistic and talk must be aimed at preventing these situations from arising by identifying contributory factors and providing access to effective personal development tools. Suicide is a grisly subject which we often tend to avoid. Fortunately many of us have recently started publishing information that may prove helpful in identifying ways to reduce this alarming trend.

Suicide arises from an uncontrolled or uncontrollable mind and we are certainly people who think a lot and worry about things. Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) has been introduced to veterinary curriculum in Canada and this is a progressive initiative that should be encouraged here and elsewhere as a grassroots initiative for teaching vets how to calm their minds and control their emotions towards better mental health and happiness. Medical practitioners in Australia have been been using this program for some time so there will be a strong body of data developing to draw upon.

Dentists mostly stopped using mercury a while ago which, in my opinion, has largely contributed to lowering the suicide rate in their profession, so we need to consider what may be lacking or contributing to despair in our own profession.

images-2People generally like veterinarians, we like animals and we usually love our jobs. So far it appears that our workplace stresses play a significant role in destabilizing our mental health. Factors such as geographical and professional isolation, difficult cases or clients and long hours may contribute to making us feel overwhelmed or helpless. Our qualifications and training unfortunately can then readily provide the means to an end. There are bound to be personal issues or other health problems in those who take their own lives, so any effective solution will most certainly need to be holistic.

 

As a profession we really must open candid discussions as soon as possible focused on exploring ways to detect those most at risk, providing preventative measures like MBSR and meditation and finding ways to better support our colleagues.

 

Suicide must never be an option.

 

I personally know three men who have taken their own lives over the years. One was in my graduating class, one the year before and one the year before that.

Sadly they are but three of hundreds as we lose one vet every twelve weeks.

One of these guys introduced me to the Registrar of the Faculty and was instrumental in me getting accepted into vet school, one was a good friend at college and the other was a classmate. Two of these men were especially vivacious, outgoing and popular and had seemingly no difficulty in relating to others but they still became statistics that has left me feeling saddened that they did not find the help they needed at the time. I would not want to see this happen to anyone else, which is why I am trying now to offer my personal experience.

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There is one thing that can be said that can provide a solid foundation of protection if it is wholly embodied and totally believed. Plus we all have to hear it often and repeat it with conviction so that it becomes permanently ingrained in our culture.

 

Suicide is not ever an escape from anything.

 

Getting close to fully realising this takes time, guidance and practice combined with the opportunity to access reliable knowledge that can be very hard to find. I recommend starting immediately and early.

Like all parents, I worry about both of my young adult children. Apparently I have reason to be more concerned than others because statistically my son is in a high risk category. If not for my personal belief system and deep knowledge that has also been imparted to him in his formative years I would have more concern. Because I meditate and because he and I have great communication I feel grateful and as secure as possible that he knows that suicide is not an option and not ever an escape. He not only knows it, he firmly believes it so that when he is very low he seeks other diversions, incentives and assistance to overcome his treacherous mind and emotions.

 

I am not naive enough to believe that I can tell anybody about what goes on in their own heads or lives but there is a something I know that should be shared. That is that there is not ever really an escape, even in death and we must find the courage and strength to persist and persevere even in our darkest moments.

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In embracing a spiritual path I, like many others, have learned to access a deeper, calmer part of myself that I can draw upon during times of stress and difficulty. This provides a solid foundation and self affirmation that helps me weather the stormy days on the battlefield of life. This includes an increasing awareness that we exist for the purpose of fulfilling our soul’s potential. Our soul is birthless and deathless and we must continue to strive over and over again through multiple lifetimes to firstly become aware of this and then to embrace it as our only true purpose for existing.

 

Following this philosophy, which is also why I assist animals to a natural death and do not perform euthanasia, I am fully and totally aware that suicide is no escape. In fact, suicide sets you back much further than you can imagine after having worked so hard to attain your progress to that point. It is not only no escape but also a guarantee that next time around will be worse. This is the mantra that keeps people like my son and me forging ahead and bettering our lives. It totally prevents us considering that in this society of avoidance that life can be avoided. Sadly we now live in a culture of such avoidance and suppression that this is an increasingly difficult task without the help of meditation or yogic practice.

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People of faith may go so far as to say that we live in a Godless society. To some extent this is true as we have been moving away from organized religions and congregations for many years in western societies and churches are being turned into offices and bed and breakfasts. But religion and spirituality are not the same things. Religion provides a structured framework and community and spirituality is personal, individual and sacred. Some of us need both but all of us need a spiritual perspective sooner or later.

 

The lack of a spiritual perspective to life makes every little thing that bit harder to deal with.

 

I acknowledge that most Christian religions do not teach or validate reincarnation but my realization is that it exists as surely as evolution follows creation. We have become unnecessarily confused and disenchanted by refusing to listen to our deeper innate intelligence and it is taking a tragic toll.

This prevailing veil of ignorance fuelled by overactive minds prevents us from feeling really good about ourselves most of the time until we rediscover our purpose. I suspect that my three friends did not know that their soul was in charge and I know that they certainly, sadly and tragically did not listen to it.

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Opening discussions or providing access to meditative practices could be a tool for saving some of these lives. The Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon has recognised this possibility and has been incorporating mindfulness into the veterinary curriculum for personal development of students as they prepare to enter the veterinary workforce. This teaches veterinary students and veterinarians, ways to better manage thoughts and emotions and quiet the mind. A quiet mind paves the way for a more peaceful life and helps us to better manage stressful situations.


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I do believe that it is a failure of our society to not acknowledge that we are spiritual beings having a human life and that however hard, lonely, depressing or desperate this life may seem at times, how we feel, think or behave is only a small part of who we truly are. In ending our life in suicide, true meditation teaches us that we are not escaping anything at all and that if we do take our own life that we will have relive it all over again from an even greater handicap.

Apart from the loss of my friends this is the main reason for my anger. I am angry that we don’t all know this and that it fails to keep us all safe from suicide. Understanding that anger is not a constructive emotion it gives way eventually to compassion. This is a better position from which we can then more effectively communicate and search for solutions.

I do not pretend to know what went wrong with my three colleagues and countless others who face what they perceived to be insurmountable despair.

Nor do I pretend to understand how this tragedy has affected those closest to them, but I do firmly believe that if we can tell people that suicide is not the answer and make them really believe it before they get to that point that some lives may be spared.

 

Each of us will have our own ideas and beliefs but I am fully convinced that if we can offer people the opportunity to study meditation and spirituality then they may come to understand and accept that suicide is not ever the answer to their overwhelming distress. Ultimately each of us is responsible for preserving our own life. We can understand ourselves better and love ourselves more if we meditate regularly.

 

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Even if you can’t believe or accept anything I’ve said here, if this approach saves only one person’s life, if it helps one person to find a way forward, the effort is worth all the criticism.

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God has His fixed Hour
For us to depart.
He does not provide us
With an emergency exit.

Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 33, Agni Press, 2003

Never Commit Suicide

Never commit suicide, never commit suicide.
No place in hell to hide, no place in hell to hide.

Sri Chinmoy, Enthusiasm, part 2

91 My Physical Death …

My physical death
Is not the end of my life —
I am an eternal journey.

Sri Chinmoy, My Christmas-New Year-Vacation Aspiration-Prayers, Part 52, Agni Press, 2007

 

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