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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, an initiative to help and support those working in the veterinary field with their mental health and well-being.
The project supports Vetlife Helpline (0303 040 2551), as an effective way for sector workers to access confidential assistance, always being put through to a person when they call, rather than having to leave a message.