Veterinarians are four times more likely to take their own life than thegeneral population and twice as more likely than any other healthcareprofession*.

Mental health issues amongst veterinarians have steadily increased over thepast 30 years and now with an uptake in pet ownership, the current skillsshortage, and the stresses that comes with COVID in general, veterinarians areat higher risk than ever of suffering from mental health issues and burnout.

Dr. Cristy Secombe, Head of Veterinary and Public Affairs at the AustralianVeterinary Association (AVA) said COVID has impacted the industry in a varietyof ways.

“Due to COVID, veterinary services have needed to be delivered in a differentway – kerb side, split teams to ensure delivery of essential services whilstminimising contact with the community – this has led to increased workload onan already stretched work force, placing vets at a higher risk of mentalhealth issues.”

Secombe said that the disrupted travel movements, both within Australia andinternationally, have impacted on veterinary recruitment.

“International vets are an important skilled workforce for the Australianveterinary market and although vets have recently been included on the PMSOLlist, the logistics of international vets coming to Australia to work remainsvery difficult at this time.”

The problems surrounding mental health within the veterinary industry werearound long before COVID and Secombe believes that challenges within the jobin general are a driving cause.

Dr. Claire Jenkins, veterinarian and founder of Vetchat, said that while itwas a rewarding job, there are challenges.

“Often presenting animals are in crisis – we are trying to do best for the pet– often under financial constraint as unlike human health care there is noMedicare or government support. Veterinarians are empathetic and focus whollyon the care of the patient, which often doesn’t stop at the end of a shift.”

Many veterinarians join the industry as they have a strong affinity towardsanimals and a motivation to serve the community, however, they may findthemselves in circumstances where they are unable to provide the level of carebest required by the animal. This can be due to the owner’s circumstances, thebeliefs and values the owner’s hold, or financial reasons, and these constantethical challenges can be draining on their mental well-being.

“Many aspects of being a clinical vet are very rewarding, however, there canbe aspects that vets find very challenging, both intrinsic or extrinsic.People may develop mental health issues when the threshold of these challengesis exceeded and the threshold varies for each individual and the factors thatcontribute also vary for each individual,” said Secombe.

The AVA has recently partnered with SuperFriend, an organisation thatspecialises in designing workplace mental health initiatives, to assist indeveloping a comprehensive wellness strategy for the profession.

“The project has just completed an extensive research stage, collecting thethoughts and experiences of those veterinarians ‘on the ground’, throughextensive focus group discussions, one-on-one interviews and an industry-widestakeholder survey completed by over 2,500 respondents.”

The AVA currently offers a range of services and resources to membersincluding a confidential counselling service, an HR advisory service, a mentalhealth first aid training program, as well as seminars around resilience,wellness and mental health.

If you are a veterinarian who is experiencing a difficult time, please callthe Australian Veterinary Association on 1300 687 327 for confidentialtelephone counselling.

*(Hatch, P., Winefield, H., & Lievaart, J, (2011), Workplace stress, mental health and burnout of veterinarians in Australia. Australian Veterinarian Journal.)

Tagged: mental health, veterinarian

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