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In May, And Always, Be Kind

The Startling Realities Of Mental Health And Crisis

May is Mental Health Month and I’m going to delve into a topic that is serious in the veterinary industry but is also impacting our children and our society as a whole. 

Why? Because it has touched me personally in my life, in my daughters’ lives at school and out in the world and in our veterinary practice, with the loss of a dear veterinary classmate several years ago. Almost monthly we learn, through professional boards and colleagues, news of the loss of another veterinary professional. We’ve also been hit by the loss of favorite authors and celebrities, including Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and Allen Krueger. It only seems to worsen each year. 

A study report released by the Centers for Disease Control in June 2018 holds scary and sad data about suicide, but points that really stuck with me:

• By 2016, suicide became the 10th most common cause of death in the US, more than twice the number of homicides.

• Among people ages 15 to 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death – and that age is dropping to involve even younger children.

• 54 percent of reported suicides between 1999 and 2016 were among people with no diagnosed mental health condition.

From the National Institute of Mental Health director Joshua Gordon on that last statistic, when a “psychological autopsy” is performed via review of a patient’s medical history and interviews with family members, more than 90 percent of those 54 percent of suicides with no known mental health condition will have evidence of a mental health condition.

Across our city and across our country, suicide rates are rising. Those rates are beyond just a mental health crisis but are a public health crisis. As noted by many mental health professionals, suicide is a not an issue only of the mentally ill but for anyone struggling in their life. The decision by an individual to commit suicide comes from deep wounds in their psyche that come from or culminate from many sources, including depression, panic and anxiety. 

Ultimately it is an act chosen to relieve unrelenting mental pain and anguish. The pain can come from relationship troubles, life stress through work or school, financial concerns, substance abuse, health changes, grieving or other personal crises.

In veterinary medicine and other medical fields, mental crisis can be triggered by depression, anxiety, grieving, the emotional roller coaster of our hard field of work and our own negativity bias. It can also be triggered by the outside pressure of negative comments and reviews that pass quickly from criticism into cyber-bullying. This, to me, is not dissimilar to what I see in our children as they navigate peer pressure, puberty, academic pressure and overwhelming expectations with the constant bath of social media.

During this month of May, I ask that we all look at our loved ones, family, co-workers, business providers and anyone we come in contact with through a lens of kindness and compassion. You cannot see the pain and struggles that they might be bearing. 

Remind your loved ones and children that they are enough and mistakes are part of being human. And, lastly, be an advocate for improving mental health care access. Help bring light to the chase away the stigma of struggle and pain.

Dr. Margot Vahrenwald is the owner of Park Hill Veterinary Medical Center at 2255 Oneida St. For more information, visit

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