The mental health pressures of being a veterinarian

14 Oct 2020
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October is World Mental Health Month, and we’re shining a light on the mental health and wellbeing of veterinarians who do so much in providing animal health and welfare services for the pets, livestock and wildlife in their care.

Veterinarians bring their compassionate and caring approach to working with all animals great and small, however there are a range of factors which place pressure on vets as individuals, which contribute to a high incidence of mental health problems within the veterinary profession.

Research shows veterinarians are four times more likely to take their own life than the general public.

Some of the factors which impact on veterinary mental health and wellbeing include the long hours required of the job, dealing with staffing shortages which affect the ability of vets to take adequate time off and maintain a work-life balance, managing client expectations and the financial limitations which can impact on the level of treatment which can be provided to patients, and sadly, dealing with abuse from clients.

As veterinarians grapple with these issues, these risk factors contribute to the high prevalence of anxiety, depression, stress, burnout and suicide seen within the veterinary profession. The year 2020 has been a challenging time for our entire community, as many people are experiencing anxiety, fear, isolation, uncertainty and emotional distress as the world struggles to bring COVID-19 under control.

How is the AVA supporting veterinarians?

In supporting all members of the veterinary profession, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) has implemented a range of VetHealth initiatives to support veterinary mental health and wellbeing. This includes access for veterinarians to the AVA’s confidential counselling service, an HR Advisory service, and seminars around resilience, wellness and mental health.

The AVA’s Mental Health First Aid Training program assists veterinary practice staff in identifying employees who may be experiencing mental health issues and helps them know how to offer assistance. The AVA’s Graduate Mentoring Program pairs newly-graduating veterinarians with an experienced colleague in another practice to provide support.

What can pet owners do to support their veterinarian?

As the Love Your Pet Love Your Vet initiative highlights, there are a number of things you can do to help and support your vet. As a pet owner, it is normal to feel anxiety or stress when something happens to your beloved pet.  However, it’s important to be mindful that while you are one person dealing with your stress, for the veterinary staff at your local veterinary clinic, you are one of many clients they see each day.

When you arrive at your veterinary consultation, bear in mind that your vet may have just had to perform life-saving or emergency treatment to another pet, or even worse, may have just had to euthanase someone's beloved animal. So please remain courteous and be sure to say ‘thank you’ to the staff, and genuinely acknowledge the amazing work they do for our beautiful pets. These simple steps can certainly go a long way! And remember - if you love your pet, be sure to love your vet.

If this article has raised any concerns for you, or to access further support please contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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