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Veterinarians battle high rates of suicide, leading UT's vet school to change programming

The new clubs and curriculum encouraging vets to care for themselves, not just the animals they treat.

We turn to them when our pets need help, but now research suggests our vets are the ones who need a checkup. 

The Centers for Disease Control said male veterinarians are twice as likely to take their own lives compared to the average population. Female vets are three and a half times more likely to kill themselves. 

"Most of us know, unfortunately, one or more people that were close to us as a colleague, as a student, as a friend that have taken their own life," Dr. Claudia Kirk, the associate dean of students at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, said. 

RELATED: UT Study: 28 percent of pet owners struggle with vet bills

Kirk said there are clear reasons vets are at higher risk: from the financial stress of vet school debt--about a quarter of a million dollars for out-of-state students at UT--to the emotional burden of caring for man's best friend. 

"Most all of us have lost pets, so we deeply understand how hard that can be," Kirk said, pointing out that standing strong with owners as pets pass away can take a toll. 

"The medications that are used for this are nearby and we see peaceful deaths," she said. "That doesn't take a big leap for a veterinarian who is accustomed to doing this." 

That's why the UT program has established a division of social work, incorporated wellness curriculum into classes and established clubs to promote wellness. 

"I think one of the best things we can do is recognize that mental health disorders are just like other disorders and need to be openly discussed," Kirk said.  

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255. 

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