Mental health and the veterinary profession
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Being a vet can be exciting and rewarding. However, caring for animals can be challenging, too – mentally as well as physically.
It has been recognised in several studies that levels of depression, stress and anxiety are disproportionately high among veterinary professionals.
So, why is this and what is the profession doing to help those affected?
Demands of the job
There are a number of factors contributing to the greater prevalence of mental health issues among veterinary workers.
Several relate to the demands of the job itself, the long, often antisocial working hours, heavy workloads, poor work-life balance and difficult client relations.
Personality of the candidate
The nature of the job may attract personality types which are more susceptible to mental health problems when all is not well. Vets’ personalities tend to be a demanding combination of perfectionist, carer and doer, culminating in a professional who is very active and very involved in their work.
It has been suggested the demanding veterinary degree admission procedures, and the necessity to excel academically just to qualify, favours high-flying driven individuals, who are later unable to cope with failure.
They are hard on themselves if their performance in practice is not perfect and if their patients do not recover when they thought they would.
This also makes them unlikely to admit if they feel unwell or unable to cope, worsening early symptoms of mental health issues.
The need to regularly perform euthanasia is also an issue.
Some research studies in the US related the requirement to repeatedly euthanise animals to the development of a form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What is being done?
In 2014, the RCVS launched Mind Matters
- Bartram DJ and Baldwin DS (2010). Veterinary surgeons and suicide: a structured review of possible influences on increased risk, Vet Rec 166(13). This will open in a new window
- Fawcett A (2014). Burnout and depression in the veterinary profession. This will open in a new window
- Pierce J (2013). Animal euthanasia and traumatic stress. An underexplored area of suffering? This will open in a new window