Being a vet can be one of the most rewarding and exciting careers. As an animal lover, there is nothing better than spending your day surrounded by pets and helping animals stay happy and healthy. However, a career in the veterinary industry can also come with its challenges.
October is Depression and Mental Health Awareness Month, so we want to raise awareness and discuss mental health issues within the veterinary industry today. According to the charity Vetlife, UK vets are three to four times more likely than the general population to commit suicide.
What causes poor mental health within the veterinary community?
There are multiple factors impacting the veterinary profession, which make them at a greater risk of developing mental health issues. Some factors could include work-related stresses, increasing cases of clients with unrealistic expectations and regular experience of animal euthanasia. It is also suggested that people who enter the veterinary industry may have common personality traits, such as being a perfectionist and empathetic carer, which sees them being predisposed to being at a heightened risk of mental health struggles.
According to Vet X International, 24.5% of male and 36.7% of female vets have experienced at least one instance of depression since veterinary school. Further contributors to mental health struggles include working long, antisocial hours with a poor work-life balance. These intense working hours can have an effect on both physical and mental health as veterinary staff become stressed and burned out.
Veterinary staff are exposed to heartbreaking instances of death and suffering at a much greater regularity than many other professions. Most people who work with animals do so as they love animals and want to help them, so seeing situations where you can’t help the animal can take an emotional toll on people. Vets are the only professionals who have to euthanise their patients if their prognosis is poor.
The high emotional demands of the job can result in emotional fatigue, as vets must be compassionate about the care of animals. Oftentimes, the welfare and well-being of animals are put ahead of that of the veterinary team.
In the past, employees’ mental health has not been considered an essential discussion in the workplace across most industries. At Paws in the City, our Ealing vet and Greenford vet branches, we are a contemporary practice in more ways than one. Not only do we take a modern approach to the services and experiences that we provide to our clients and pets, but we also take a contemporary approach to ensuring the well-being of our staff.
Hope to Better Cope with Depression
- Socialise When you’re experiencing depression, you may find yourself isolated from your friends, peers and routines. Try your best to keep connected with your support network so that you don’t feel alone during difficult periods.
- Be more active You might feel like you don’t have enough energy to exercise, but regular exercise can help to boost your mood and energy levels. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins which can help to improve your mood and reduce any negative thoughts you may be having.
- Keep in a routine It can be difficult to stick to a routine when you’re feeling down or overwhelmed. Sleep patterns can also be interrupted. It is best to try and stick to your regular routine so that once this period passes you are still in routine and on top of tasks.
- Take extra care of yourself Try to eat more healthily when you’re feeling low as this can help to boost your mood. Overeating or undereating can cause a low mood. Try to make sure you get out of bed, brush your teeth and take a shower. Do little things that keep you proactive.
- Challenge your negative thoughts A lot of the thoughts that stem from feelings of depression are often irrational or unlikely. It may be helpful to question the thoughts that you’re having.
- Spending time with puppies! Another way to help keep mental health woes at bay can be by planning morale-boosting days for your staff. Paws in Work delivers crafted mental health training and charming puppy therapy events, which bring a sense of calm to an otherwise busy lifestyle. These puppy therapy sessions can help support your team’s well-being. By hosting puppy therapy events, Paws in Work can help to give people the opportunity to take a break from the daily stresses of their work, whilst playing, laughing and relaxing with some loveable puppies.
In addition to these puppy therapy events, Paws in Work also offer Mental Health Training. These accredited courses can help to raise awareness and provide your team with the right tools to help maintain positive mental health.
What are professional bodies doing to help?
The RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) sets and upholds the education, ethical and clinical standards of veterinary professionals. In 2015, the RCVS launched a project called Mind Matters, which aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals, which include not only veterinary surgeons and nurses, but also veterinary students and practice managers. Through the Mind Matters project, the RCVS can fund and support the Vetlife Helpline, which ensures that anyone who calls is always put through to a person who can offer them support, rather than a message being left on a machine.
And what can we do to help our peers?
According to The Guardian, nearly 70% of veterinarians have lost a colleague or peer to suicide.
Firstly, we must work together to remove the stigma surrounding mental health within the veterinary industry. By having open and honest discussions surrounding well-being, we can normalise conversations surrounding individual well-being and offer each other support when times are difficult. Discussing your concerns, worries or distresses and how they are affecting you can help to alleviate the issue before it becomes a bigger problem. Keeping your thoughts and feelings to yourself can cause them to manifest into a much larger drain on your mental health than it would be if these were discussed with someone who can provide professional support.
If you are feeling low, please discuss any issues with your colleagues or friends who can offer you support or advice. If you are struggling with your mental health, and speaking to a peer would not or does not help, please speak to your doctor who can help with the next steps to improving your mental wellbeing. Studies show that interacting with pets can help to lower stress levels, manage anxiety and provide a sense of companionship.
If you would like professional and impartial support, please consider reaching out to one of the resources below:
Mental Health Support for Veterinary Professionals:
If you are a member of the veterinary community and you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, speak to Vetlife for independent and confidential support.
Vetlife – Call 0303 040 2551 24 hours a day, every day
Mental Health Support for Everybody:
If you’re having a difficult time, you can talk to someone with no judgement or pressure by reaching out to the Samaritans or CALM
Samaritans – Call 116 123 – 24 hours a day, every day
CALM – Call 0800 58 58 58 or speak via web chat 5 pm-midnight everyday
Pet Bereavement and Pet Loss – Speak to a fully-trained member of the team who can help you through your difficult time after experiencing the loss of a beloved pet
Blue Cross – Call 0800 096 6606 – 8:30am-8:30pm every day