Almost 6 months ago, the animal medicine, training and behavior community lost one of it's heroes. Dr. Sophia Yin DVM, MS, died by suicide September 29th 2014. The loss sent waves of grief through the animal behavior, veterinary, and dog training communities. I had never met her personally, but still to this day I miss her dearly. I understand the passion she felt for her field, the deep overwhelming compassion that we all feel for animals, and also the darkness that can be lurking in the background.
In her life, Dr. Sophia Yin was one of the instrumental driving forces that has helped start the conversation about a new age of animal care and treatment. She worked tirelessly to promote "Fear Free" based techniques including her Low Stress Handling techniques for vets and the Treat and Train reward-based training system for dog trainers and pet owners. She lectured extensively and offered wonderful educational materials on her website. She also authored multiple treasured books and produced many educational dvds. In her passing she started another conversation, about the darkness that can consume those in these fields and about humane treatment of those suffering from mental illness.
I was deeply moved by her passing. It took me months to initially grapple with the loss. Some of my friends and colleagues felt confusion and disbelief. Others felt anger as well as despair. Instead of anger or confusion, I was anguished with the question of how could someone who fought so hard for a fear free life for pets, could be so pained as to leave us... And then I am remembered of how the pain follows in the shadows stalking good people. The pain is a silent follower in the hearts of many of those also filled with love and understanding. With deep empathy, can also come great darkness.
I know this because Dr. Yin was not alone in her suffering. Millions suffer. My friends have suffered. I have suffered. Depression is real and none of us are alone. Yet for some reason we are not allowed to talk about it. Today I choose to help end that silence. "Veterinarians are four times as likely to commit suicide than the average person; twice as likely as their human healthcare counterparts..." (AVMA). We don't have statistics for other animal care professionals such as dog trainers and rescuers. But what we do know is that people who work with animals, care and feel deeply and are likely similarly affected by depression and other mental illness symptoms.
Depression and mental illness are not conditions of the weak, but the strong. They are conditions of those who burden themselves with deep compassion, depth, creativity and genius. They are conditions of the brave who try to face every day no matter the pain. And they are conditions of the tired... The oh so tired... Of fighting every day... Through the darkness, the desperation, the hopelessness. Feeling lost, numb and yet in pain.
As far as the animal behavior, veterinary, and dog training communities knew, Dr. Yin suffered in silence. This needs to end now. My hope is that no one ever feels afraid to say they are having a hard time, they need help, they feel lost, alone, or in pain. If you are suffering, say something. If not publicly, then privately with friends, family or even a helpline. If you've tried, try again. If medications down't work, try diet, herbs, exercise, or another alternative. If medications do work, great! Don't feel guilty. Find help, find a solution.
And if you don't suffer, let your loved ones know that you're available if they need to talk. Get QPR Gatekeeper training (http://www.qprinstitute.com/gatekeeper.html) so you can recognize the signs of someone in crisis. Participate in fundraisers/awareness programs and charity walks. But most of all, start a conversation. Don't let mental pain and illness stay hidden. Because if it stays hidden, our loved ones will hide their pain and suffering until it consumes them.
I've had my struggles and I hold my dogs when it hurts too much to breathe. Since the world lost Dr. Yin I have been holding my dogs a lot. I hope wherever she is that she knows she is a hero, in life and in death. In life she is a voice for fairness, kindness, and love, that will never be silenced. In death she is a beacon of light, that will never be extinguished. A light that reminds us that this suffering is real, and that the people we look up to, are human, and in need of love and support too.
Feeling like making a difference right now? You can!
On June 27th I will be walking in honor of Dr. Yin and all the other amazing people lost to this world from suicide. We will walk all night to bring light to this issue and remember those who cannot walk with us. You can be a part. Walk with us! Join our team and we can walk together. Or you can support the cause of ending suicide by making a donation. Finally, if you have lost someone, we would love to honor them too. Just contact us and we will honor as well.
Please visit my donation page here if you's like to help - http://theovernight.donordrive.com/participant/mollysumner
Or walk with us and join our team here - http://theovernight.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=7422
If you're suffering, there is hope. If you want to make a difference, you can:
The Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
IMALIVE Online Crisis Center
The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Out of the Darkness the Overnight
How to Help Someone who is Suicidal
Nationtal Institute of Mental Health - Suicide Prevention
To Write Love on Her Arms