VETS may be most vulnerable to suicide when they graduate because they lose the round-the-clock support of their peers, according to students.

The suicide rate for vets is thought to be as high as four times the national average.

The emotional burden of having to euthanise animals (sometimes healthy) and dealing with distraught owners as well as access to euthanasia drugs is thought to be responsible in part for the higher rates.

According to students, the profession tends to attract outgoing, ambitious Type A personalities, known to be more susceptible to stress and who may feel they have failed if they are unable to help a stricken animal.

In some veterinary circles there is a reference to "blue cross" day when vets are despatched to rescue centres to put animals to sleep.

Antonia Ioannou and Kirsty McColm, both 22, and final year students at Glasgow University's School of Veterinary Medicine, says they have already dealt with challenging situations.

A young male vet, believed to be from the Lanarkshire area and known to both students, is understood to have taken his own life last year, around a year and a half after graduating. Antonia said: "There is always that one case that tears at your heart strings. You get to know the owners, you get to know the animal but you just have to let it go.

"I was seeing a patient for seven days, it was a dog with cancer. The couple didn't have children so that dog was their baby.

"They couple had a lot of money and they were willing to do anything to save the dog.

"But at the end of the day, you can't pay for life. The hardest thing was having to put it down. They were sobbing and the woman was hugging me.

"I had another woman who had a really bad depression, she was suicidal and we had to put the dog to sleep. Having to lose that one thing that was keeping her going.

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"Within five minutes, it's the next patient.

"It's not just about the profession. There is a certain type of person who is attracted to veterinary medicine, Type A and driven who want to help others.

"You are dealing with death every day and you want to give 100% every day.

"So we are already at risk.

"I personally just try not to get too emotionally involved with patients.

"You show the owners you care, you show empathy but at the end of the day it has to stay in the hospital with you.

"They talk about protective strategies and how to keep a healthy distance from patients."

Kirsty, who is from the Scottish borders, added: "There is no let up. You might be having to put a healthy animal to sleep, then ten minutes later you have your next patient and it might a completely difference scenario - you have to be excited for an owner with a new puppy.

"I had to put a relatively healthy dog to sleep. The owner was struggling with a condition that was causing the dog to be up all night, mess the floor.

"It wasn't completely healthy but given a different scenario, it could have been managed but the owner couldn't deal with it.

"So that was quite hard. I had to reason with it and think about it from the owner's perspective and that the dog's welfare might not be that good."

According to Vetlife, which offers psychological support to vets, up to one third of those in the veterinary profession may have psychological wellbeing difficulties at some stage."

Both Antonia and Kirsty believe new graduates are most at risk. They said the young vet who died last year, had "only been out for about a year and a half" and was "well known and liked" in the community.

Antonia, who is from the U.S. said: "He graduated from Glasgow University and was about two years above us. He was only about a year and a half out.

"It hit the community in different way. A lot of people had played sport with him.

"I think the biggest 'at risk 'population is probably the new graduates because as students we have a lot of support. Seasoned vets are used to it but new graduates have gone from having all this intense support to being thrown into a job that becomes your life.

"That's when they are going to make the most mistakes."

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Kirsty added: "We are educated about it throughout university. External people come in and talk about resilience and the types of things we can do to combat it.

"They also talk about ethical scenarios that might cause us stress, such as a really emotional 'put to sleep' that can take its toll on you."

The final year students are heavily involved in the promotion of mental health awareness at the vet school, which ranked second in the Guardian University Guide 2020, as co-presidents of Glasgow University Veterinary Medical Association (GUVMA).

Antonia said: "We run a wellbeing month, we call it Feelgood February designed to look at mental health in the profession.

"They tell us about mental health and how to look after yourself etc but I think when you graduate, it restricts it. When you are working 14 hours, you don't have time to go to the gym, to meal prep."

Despite the challenges, both have no regrets about their chosen career. Kirsty wants to specialise in farming, while Antonia is keen to pursue a career dealing with small animals, specialising in oncology.

Kirsty, who is from the borders area, said: "I'm from a farming background and I always knew I wanted to work with animals. You have to love working with people too, animals don't talk to you."

Antonia, who was born in Cyprus but was raised in the U.S, said: "I liked the science behind it."

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