Ever since Jeff Sutarik could crawl, his parents knew that their son wanted to be a veterinarian.
“He would have these little doctor’s bags and measure the heartbeats and temperatures of animals,” said his mother, Pat Sutarik. “When other children were playing and exercising, he worked with horses.”
Jeff’s professional career developed into a love of animals.
A straight-A student, he graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Veterinary Medicine in 2005. Shortly afterwards he fell in love, married and became a veterinarian in the western suburb of Lombard.
“Jeff was like the Michael Jordan of veterinary medicine,” said Dr. Georgianne Ludwig from the Lombard Veterinary Hospital. A longtime friend and colleague, Ludwig described Jeff as one of the best veterinarians she’s ever seen.
“He had a lot of empathy for both the client and the pet and wanted to become a healer and do everything possible to help both the animal and the client,” added Ludwig. “We tend to be empaths, that is, we take on the pain and suffering not only of pets, but also of customers.”
Jeff’s mother agreed and said of her son, “He mourned the loss of the dogs he had to euthanize.”
“If he could save them all, he would,” added his father Ed Sutarik.
Both parents said Jeff had a severe headache in July 2019 and feared it could interfere with his job. The family said he was diagnosed with stress-related anxiety. Jeff was taking time off from work, seeking advice, and taking medication.
But his family could never imagine what would happen next.
“Was the worst day of my life,” said Pat. “I wouldn’t wish that to Satan.”
The family said on October 26, 2019 that Jeff left a note on his computer, went to a park near his home in Lombard, and ended his life at the age of 41. His wife Haley said it was too painful for her to speak up, but she supported her in-laws to help other families.
Jeff’s death left his family in disbelief but said they were stunned when they saw their son was not alone.
A 2019 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 11,620 veterinarians’ death records found male veterinarians more than twice as likely to die from suicide than others in the general population. Female veterinarians are three and a half times more likely to commit suicide, and the study was published prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pet population explodes during the COVID lockdown
When people started adopting or purchasing pets during the pandemic, veterinarians had to keep pace with the influx of animals and COVID restrictions.
“The pandemic has hit an industry that has already faced a lot of emotional ups and downs, a lot of really busy work, a lot of staff shortages and a lot of financial stress, and it has turned the dial up,” said Dr. Carrie Jurney, a veterinary neurologist and president of the Not One More Vet group, “I’ve been in emergency veterinary medicine for over 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like we did last year. We had kind of perfect thunderstorm of difficult things. “
NOMV was founded in 2014 to improve the mental wellbeing of veterinarians around the world. With over 30,000 members worldwide, NOMV is one of the largest peer-to-peer veterinary self-help groups.
The organization also offers educational programs and supports research to promote well-being, mental health, and suicide reduction among veterinarians.
Jurney says many vets suffer from the stress of college debt, emotional exhaustion, and the inability of many clients to afford the treatment their pets need to survive.
“That leads to enormous stress for the veterinarian. It creates tremendous stress for the pet owner and sometimes these pet owners get sad or upset and they strike, ”Jurney said, adding that it is not uncommon for veterinarians to be bullied online or to leave hostile reviews on their websites.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) issued a statement stating, “The veterinary profession is a relatively small group and any loss of life in our community is profoundly felt. AVMA stands united in our grief, our concern and our efforts to give hope and save lives. We want to do all we can to support the wellbeing of our members … by providing evidence-based wellbeing resources, prevention training, and other outreach support for those in trouble. “
A charitable fund called Make A Wag was set up in Jeff’s name to help elderly people pay for medical care for their pets.
“He would be so sad if old people came in who couldn’t afford medication for their dogs,” said Pat, his mother. “It was so important to him that the elderly have pets.”
Jeff’s Alma Mater Purdue University provides advice and guidance to veterinary school students.
The Sutariks hope that sharing Jeff’s story will save another family from the pain they feel every day. “They need good help … and they need help from people who can show them that they are not hopeless,” said Pat.
“… I’ve never experienced anything like last year. We had a kind of perfect storm of difficult things. “
Dr. Carrie Jurney, veterinarian and president of the Not One More Vet group
If you are in a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors can be reduced with proper mental support and treatment, weaknesses or deficiencies, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.