Veterinarians are struggling more than others, according to recent data.

While the crude suicide rate in Quebec in 2021 was about 13.3 per 100,000 people, it was almost three times higher among veterinarians. No fewer than 15 suicides have been recorded in 15 years by the Association des médecins vétérinaires du Québec (AMVQ).

For Angelo Soares, a sociologist and full professor in the Department of Organisation and Human Resources at the Université du Québec à Montréal, the problem is not an individual one, but rather the organization of the professional environment. His study conducted in 2022 among 975 members of the Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec (OMVQ) revealed that 38 per cent of Quebec veterinarians were experiencing symptoms of burnout.

Of the total number of respondents, 15.7 per cent also stated that they sometimes thought about committing suicide, but would not do so. Under one per cent of respondents wanted to end their lives, and 0.5 per cent said they would do so if the opportunity arose.

"That 16.8 per cent is very worrying because even if the person will not take the action, the thought is there, and it exists,' Soares said.

Across Canada, the issues are much the same: statistics provided by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association show that one in five veterinarians or technologists reported having suicidal thoughts.

This distress is more prevalent among women, who in 2021 represented 67 per cent of the 2,757 veterinarians in Quebec. In the same year's cohort, 82 per cent of the 94 graduates were women.

"This is a profession that has become more feminized. (...) But in the groups I studied, women had more suicidal thoughts than men, and not because there were more of them," the sociologist said.

Work overload is, according to the researchers, the main cause of crisis in the profession. The pandemic has exacerbated already existing problems, including the inability to recruit staff due to the shortage of manpower, thus accentuating the difficulty of reconciling work and family and the risks of burnout.

Workplace harassment is also a factor, Soares added, and contributes to suicidal ideations among many veterinarians.


Although some information is available from specific workplace surveys, there is currently no overall data in Quebec that identifies the occupations of people who died by suicide.

"Unfortunately, when the Coroner's Office conducts its investigations, and the Quebec Institute of Public Health (INSPQ) evaluates, the data collection does not allow us to know the occupation of the person who died," said Quebec suicide prevention association (AQPS) president and CEO Jérôme Gaudreault.

According to him, obtaining this information could help organizations to better identify aggravating factors and to target the trades where the suicide rate is higher.

"I know, for example, that there were issues in the Montreal Police Department. In the 1990s, they set up a prevention program specifically for police officers that produced excellent results and led to an 80 per cent drop in the suicide rate," said Gaudreault.

Confidentiality issues, among others, may limit the dissemination of this information, Gaudreault admitted, but these elements could possibly be worked on in the long term with the Coroner's Office.

"It's extremely important to have access to this data," said Soares, "because prevention is crucial because it's when the person starts thinking about suicide that we have to intervene. By looking at the factors that trigger these thoughts, we can act at the source in the workplaces concerned."


On Sunday, the AQPS launched the 33rd Suicide Prevention Week, which will be held under the theme "Prevention is better than death. Dare to talk about suicide" from Feb. 5 to 11. This year, the organization is emphasizing the importance of talking about suicide with those close to you, despite the discomfort that the subject sometimes causes.

"There is still a strong myth among the population that talking to someone about suicide might make them want to do it. However, suicidal ideas do not appear so suddenly. (...) Talking is the first step in getting help." said Gaudreault.

Although INSPQ data show that the suicide death rate has stabilized in recent years, more than 1,000 Quebecers took their own lives in 2020, or almost three people a day.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Feb. 5, 2023.