This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Securing Lethal Means for Suicide: A Focus Group Study Exploring Perceptions and Barriers Among Practicing Veterinarians




Waitz-Kudla, Sydney

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Psychological Sciences

Restriction Status


Restriction Type

Auburn University Users

Date Available



Veterinarians are at higher risk for suicide than the general population, and it has been hypothesized that this may be attributable to veterinarians’ access to and knowledge of lethal drugs, specifically pentobarbital. One possible method for reducing suicide risk is means safety, which involves creating barriers between suicidal individuals and lethal means. To date, no research has examined acceptability and feasibility of various means safety in the veterinary workplace. In our mixed methods study of 43 veterinarians, we administered surveys before and after their participation in focus groups. The pre-test survey revealed that 30% reported storing their pentobarbital unlocked at least part of the time. Thematic analysis of focus group discussions evaluated veterinarians’ perceptions of risk factors for suicide in their profession, as well as means safety protocols for pentobarbital. Participants identified work/life balance or being overwhelmed as the most common suicide risk factor in veterinarians, with normalizing mental health emerging as a primary way to improve mental health in veterinarians. Participants also identified the difficulty of changing veterinary culture as a barrier to improving mental health in veterinarians. Additionally, adding an extra lockbox for euthanasia drugs emerged as the most acceptable and feasible means safety method, with the possibility of increasing animal suffering or lack of space emerging as barriers to implementing this protocol. Finally, after participating in the focus groups, veterinarians increased in willingness to implement storage protocol changes (p = .02) and were more likely to endorse concern about a coworker’s suicide (p <.01) as a reason to change pentobarbital storage methods. Results from this study will inform policy changes for pentobarbital storage and suicide prevention efforts in the veterinary workplace.