Good mental health is crucial for individuals in all professions, including the veterinary field. However, sadly, the sensitive nature of the work and the unique challenges that veterinary professionals face, can often take their toll on their own mental health. As a result, it is important to support and promote good mental health practices in the veterinary world and to create an awareness of the innate caring and sensitive nature of vets, and of the high level of suicide within the veterinary profession.
During lockdown many people acquired new pets as company for themselves during those difficult times. This increase in pets has naturally increased the veterinary workload. However, a concerning “perfect storm” has been created in veterinary practice, due to this increase in workload, and to fewer numbers of vets in practice due to “burn-out” and therefore there is now more of a workload put on those vets still working hard at the “chalk face" of veterinary practice.
Veterinary professionals work in a highly emotional and challenging environment. They are tasked with the difficult responsibility of caring for a high volume of animals that are sick, injured, or dying, and they also support many clients through the difficult and emotional decision to euthanise a beloved pet, on a regular basis. They work closely with their clients, the pet owners, who are understandably highly emotionally invested in their pets, which can then lead to compassion fatigue, burnout, and other ongoing mental health issues.
Sadly, the veterinary profession has been found to have a higher rate of suicide compared to any other professions. The reasons behind this are complex and can vary from individual to individual. However, some contributing factors include job-related stress, compassion fatigue, financial pressures, and a general lack of support.
It is crucial for our clients to understand the sensitive nature of veterinary practitioners, and to support in encouraging good mental health practices for them. Clients can play an important role in creating a positive work environment for veterinary professionals by having an understanding, by being patient and kind, by showing an appreciation for their work, by recognising the challenges they face and being supportive of them.
Additionally, veterinary practices themselves can take steps to promote good mental health practices among their staff. This can include providing and encouraging an access to mental health resources and support, creating a positive work culture that values mental health, and providing regular support training on coping skills, resilience, and stress management.
Thankfully, recently the veterinary profession has benefitted from an increased awareness and education about mental health issues. This includes providing resources and training on how to recognise the signs of mental health issues and how to deal with these, and by providing individual, tailored support to any colleagues who may be struggling.
Promoting good mental health practices in the veterinary world is crucial for the future well-being of veterinary professionals, and in turn will enable them to cope and be able to be there for the animals they care for. A sympathetic awareness and understanding of this concern are crucial, and our clients can play an important role in this, as they can assist in creating a more supportive, positive environment for vets. While veterinary practice management teams themselves can also take several steps to promote good mental health practices among their staff.
I have work at Crown Vets for over 20 years now. I will be 40 years graduated this year, and I do now plan to retire this summer at the end of July. The past few years have been the toughest I have ever known working in general practice, and I do worry for my younger colleagues looking ahead. Hopefully, an increased awareness and education about mental health issues in the veterinary profession can help to reduce the high rate of suicide and improve mental health and well-being in general within the veterinary world.