Vets have long been considered the guardians of animal welfare and health. In earlier times, they were required to work in professional isolation at all times of the day and night, and expected to work with all species of animals. Today they work in an ever more diverse environment and in specialist areas. The effects of working long hours, performing euthanasia on animals, emotional pressure, financial issues, unrealistic expectations, and dealing with distressed clients places considerable stress on both the vet themselves and their families at home.
Failure to cope with stress can lead to emotional problems such as depression and suicide, physical problems such as psoriasis and being vulnerable to infection, and behavioural issues such as irritability and anger. Working the unsocial and long hours that are generally required, juggling the emotional involvement with patients but also being able to detach from them emotionally, as well as the need to be self-critical but balancing this with the ability not to be too critical, can be a risk factor to the onset of depression. With a lot of vets tending to be perfectionists, there is also the risk of many practitioners being workaholics without strong support systems. This can lead to a tendency for vets to hide things that are bothering them, and continue to push on, ignoring their symptoms.
It may not come as any surprise then that the mental health of vets is showing serious signs of sickness.
Within Australia a vet will suicide approximately every 12 weeks, In the period from 1990 to 2002, 11 vets in Victoria and Western Australia killed themselves. The rates of suicide for vets in Victoria and Western Australia are estimated to be 3.8 times and 4.0 times respectively, the age-standardised rate for suicide in the adult populations of their respective states. Further, it was reported that for two states within Australia, vets had a suicide rate of 45 per 100,000-person-years, which is roughly four times the general population rate within these two states.
Clearly there is a serious issue within this profession. Clearly something needs to be done about it. We need a paradigm shift to change the old ways of thinking and behaving if we are to effect lasting, positive, changes.
I'm doing my bit to help create this paradigm shift - but how about you? Are you part of the problem or solution?
About Dr Nadine Hamilton
As a leading authority on veterinary wellbeing, Dr Hamilton helps veterinary professionals get on top of stress and conflict to avoid burnout and suicide, and also works with practice managers and owners to increase wellbeing, productivity, and retention in the workplace. Additionally, she provide workshops to small and large groups within the private and corporate sectors, and speaks at conferences and symposiums both nationally and internationally.
Her book "Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian - An Evidence-Based Solution to Increase Wellbeing" was released in March 2019 through Australian Academic Press, and is already making a positive impact within the profession - both here in Australia and internationally.
As an advocate for the veterinary profession, Dr Hamilton founded the charity "Love Your Pet Love Your Vet" and partnered with Royal Canin to reduce stigma in veterinary professionals seeking help, raising awareness within the community about the realities of working in the profession, and providing psychological and educational support to veterinary professionals.