Thursday, 20 April 2017


Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Stevie Smith

I attended funeral about 3 months ago. A family member who killed themselves.

The dogs, frantic through the night, found him first, then his son. Just imagine.

We stood in the rain, a community of working people, heads bowed, in suits too big or too small, around a fresh grave with hot tears.

He wasn't a strange man, or a desperate man. Just a man lost in day to day banality and finally lost in his mind.

And I was angry. Not with him, with him I felt nothing but an aching pity I couldn't have reached out to him at that unGodly desolate hour and given him peace, but with the people who said "I'm not surprised."

"I'm not surprised!?" Because you saw the mental and physical deterioration that resulted in such a violent and tragic end when you could have stepped in?

"I'm not surprised" because of the situation or the work, his position or the circumstances he found himself in?

"I'm not surprised" because it's considered normal for a hard working man in a stressful and lonely position to take his own life and allow his family to find his bloody remains mixed with a muddy yard?

I'm still angry.

Then I received news a couple of days ago about a vet I taught. Dr K God bless you. He ended his life.

Also alone, in some dark place he could only find one way of escaping.

I recall him as a jolly person, always willing to participate. I don't know what happened, only that he was found alone. He was buried this morning surrounded by a huge number of people.

A few weeks ago I lectured at SEVA and was lucky enough to be invited to the evening dinner where I sat with several final year students. One lady I spoke with carried the nervousness I could only ascribe to social anxiety and the excema on her forearms and tic of trying to conceal her scratching belied something I feared may become more ugly with the exposure a young graduate is faced with from day one and which only grows with increasing responsibility.

I spoke with her for little more than 45 minutes but slept fitfully that night wondering what my duty as a fellow colleague should be, or whether my observations were aberrant and even offensive?
I've always been astounded by the trail of tragedy that follows veterinary medicine in its literal wake. Depression, alcoholism, family break ups, injury and suicide. It is so common place that it is met with the "I'm not surprised" dismissive and idiotic "the show must go on."

If anyone is reading this and is in that place. The place where your thoughts are not your own, where the next day envelopes you in fear, where the need to escape may trickle in ideas of death. We know that it hurts, that you are not alone and that at last help is there. In Vetlife, in MindMatters, in the Samaritans, in AA, in a call to a colleague or a friend, on a knock on the door of a neighbor. I only ask and beg that you never allow anyone to utter the words "I'm not surprised."

If you need to talk to someone, Vetlife Helpline is avaialble 24 hours a day. Call: 0303 040 2551 or email via the website:

Ben Sturgeon


  1. A heart-wrenching piece.

    I wonder how many of us are drowning not waving? Vets in particular, are so adept at just "carrying on" regardless of anything else.

    Be never know what battles another person is facing.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking blog.


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  2. Sometimes it's just the effort of trying to appear normal which is too much. The last straw.
    Very difficult to spot, the best thing is to be the kindest person you can be to everyone just in case. Requires effort and you will get dumped on periodically and some times you will fail but just keep trying to be the best person you can: good for everyone and good for you.

  3. A terribly sad story and I thank you for sharing and putting your thoughts onto paper.
    I hope it inspires people to seek help themselves but more importantly I hope it encourages others seek out those who need their help.
    It makes me so sad to know that there are many people in our profession who are 'drowning and not waving' but what is more frustrating and upsetting is that there are those who are 'drowning and waving' but being over looked by colleagues. We must learn to see the subtle ‘waves’ of those who need our help and support.
    I wonder how many of us have suspected something might not be quite right or can see that someone seems overwhelmed or is more irritable than usual and hasn’t spoken to them.
    You might think these are hard conversations to have but they start a simple ‘how are you today?’ and really listening to the reply. Let them know that you are there for them to talk to. They might not open up right away but keep asking them and reminding them that you are there, you care and you want to help, that you value them and their life.
    Please don’t miss the subtle ‘waves’ those waving might feel like they are waving frantically but not being seen. We all have a responsibility to look after each other and not bury our heads in the sand whilst others are drowning at sea.

  4. I would also add that if you are feeling suicidal, you haven't lost your mind. Your mind is there just buried in a fog which can clear with the right help. If you reach out people will help you to clear the fog they will not think you have lost your mind (I suspect this was an attempt by the author to be poetic that in my mind didn't quite come off right)!

  5. What fantastic words from Ben and those who have commented. I have a huge respect for BEVA members, having worked alongside you for more than 25 years, so may I add a link for you all?

    Samaritans is a fantastic organisation, available 24/7 by 'phone, e-mail, text and face-to-face. We never judge, we always listen, it's a safe place because of our rules of confidentiality. Whatever you're going through, call us free any time, from any phone on 116 123.

    We're here round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a response immediately, it's best to call us on the phone. This number is FREE to call. You don't have to be suicidal to call us. Have a look at for more information.

    I do hope it is OK for me to post this information, as I do have huge respect for the work you all do and some knowledge of the anxieties it can create.

  6. Thank you for all of your helpful comments. We have had a huge response to this blog but are aware that some individuals are not able to post a comment. Please let us know if that is the case and we can post something anonymously for you. Both the Samaritans and VetLife are there to help if you have been affected by this blog (or anything else). Vetlife have a dedicated service for vets no matter what problem is.

  7. I often wonder why the threshold to suicide may be lower or more easily crossed for members of our profession... is it because we spend so much of our time contemplating death for those we are caring for? How do we justify our performing the act of euthanasia, or "good death"? Because we are relieving suffering of course. We are doing something the animal would 'want', aren't we? Wouldn't they choose this end if they could? Can we go so far as to liken it to an assisted suicide? Makes it easier doesn't it? I think somewhere deep in my brain that is what I do. And so when life becomes unbearable is it such a leap to start to think of ourselves as the "assistant" to our own suicide... makes it easier somehow, separating the act from the recipient...

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