In September of 2014, 48-year-old veterinary behaviorist and best-selling author Dr. Sophia Yin died of suicide.
Dr. Yin was a trailblazer in the dog training community. She wrote books, created instructional videos, and developed tools for positive reinforcement training. In the Huffington Post, Anna Jane Grossman writes that it is impossible to overstate Dr. Yin’s contribution to the world.
It is, perhaps, this overwhelming dedication to animals that led her to take her own life. According to those closest to her, Dr. Yin likely suffered from compassion fatigue.
Charles Figely, Ph.D., Director of the Tulane Traumatology Institute, defines compassion fatigue as:
“Emotional exhaustion, caused by the stress of caring for traumatized or suffering animals or people.”
Compassion fatigue is also known as “secondary-traumatic stress disorder” (STSD). The symptoms of STSD are similar to PTSD. As with PTSD, compassion fatigue can lead to depression and thoughts of suicide.
STSD is not rare and Dr. Yin’s suffering was not unusual.
The first ever mental health survey for veterinarians revealed that one in six of them have contemplated suicide. A recent study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that animal rescue workers have a suicide rate of 5.3 in 1 million workers. This is the highest suicide rate among American workers; a rate shared only by firefighters and police officers. The national suicide average for American workers is 1.5 per 1 million.
Jessica Dolce, a Certified Compassion Fatigue Educator, says,
“Compassion fatigue is an occupational hazard of our work with animals, whether you are an animal control officer or kennel attendant in a small town or an internationally recognized veterinarian. Our work requires that we compassionately and effectively respond to the constant demand to be helping those who are suffering and in need.“