By Cynthia Bain
Supporting Veterinarians: Combating the Rising Threat of Suicide
The veterinary industry relies heavily on the expertise and dedication of veterinarians, who play a vital role in ensuring the health and well-being of our animals. However, the profession of veterinary medicine is facing a silent crisis as the threat of suicide among these dedicated professionals continues to rise. This blog post will explore the factors contributing to this alarming trend and discuss the best ways to support veterinarians during these challenging times.
A few facts about veterinarians:
- Vet school is challenging and expensive. Veterinarians, unlike many human doctors, must learn to treat the whole animal. A veterinarian may perform dental procedures, surgery or administer basic vaccinations. Veterinarians are expected to do it all.
- Many veterinarians face significant student loan debt and the financial strain of running their own practice.
- Many veterinarians are trained in veterinary medicine but not in practical business management.
- The nature of their work can be isolating, with veterinarians often working alone or in remote locations. This isolation can contribute to feelings of loneliness and burnout.
- An ever-increasing shortage of specialty veterinarians creates a greater demand on those practicing in their respective specialties.
- Long hours, inclement weather, challenging working conditions, and client expectations add to the stress faced by veterinarians daily.
- “A veterinarian is four times more likely to take their life, compared to the general population.” www.sophieslegacy.com
When it comes to our beloved pets, we all want the best care possible. Veterinarians are there to provide that care, but sometimes, clients hold unrealistic expectations that can strain the veterinarian-client relationship and, in some cases, even jeopardize the well-being of the animals.
One of the most common unrealistic expectations is the desire for instant solutions. Some clients expect veterinarians to provide immediate remedies to complex medical issues. While veterinarians strive for quick and effective care, diagnosing and treating animals often requires time, tests, and follow-up appointments. Often with limitations on diagnostic procedures – that admittedly can be expensive, but in their absence, leaves the veterinarian to a “best guess” rather than a specific diagnosis with some level of confidence.
Many clients hope for miraculous recoveries, assuming every ailment can be cured. In reality, some conditions are untreatable or have a poor prognosis. Veterinarians must deliver honest and compassionate information about the realistic outcomes of treatments.
The desire for lower costs is another challenge. Some clients underestimate the expense of veterinary care – both the cost of diagnostic tests as well as treatments – and may pressure veterinarians to provide cheaper alternatives. Veterinarians aim to offer affordable care but must maintain high standards and cover overhead costs.
Some clients expect veterinarians to be all-knowing, particularly with rare or unusual conditions. Veterinary medicine is vast, and while veterinarians are highly knowledgeable, they may need to consult with specialists or research specific cases.
Clients occasionally assume that veterinary procedures are entirely risk-free. Every medical intervention carries some level of risk, which veterinarians must carefully explain to clients. Informed consent is crucial in these situations.
Unrealistic expectations are not limited to medical matters. Clients may expect their pets to behave perfectly or recover from behavioral issues overnight. Pet training and behavior modification require time and effort.
Clients sometimes struggle with adherence to treatment plans. They might believe their pet will readily take medication or follow a strict diet. Pets can be challenging patients, and veterinarians need clients’ cooperation.
Additionally, some clients turn to online search engines and social media for advice rather than seeking professional care at the onset. Delayed medical care for our animals can further compound the complexity of the health issue and the demands that this places on our veterinarians. Rather than saving money, it can increase the cost of care. Administering the wrong medication based on online searches and recommendations can be deadly to animals.
Unrealistic expectations can strain the veterinarian-client relationship and hinder the delivery of optimal care to our furry companions. It is crucial for both pet owners and veterinarians to engage in open, realistic communication. Clients should understand that veterinary medicine, like any field, has limitations and complexities. Veterinarians, in turn, should provide clear explanations, manage expectations, and offer the best care possible within those boundaries. By working together, clients and veterinarians can ensure the well-being of our beloved pets while maintaining a respectful and supportive partnership.
The first step in addressing this issue is to raise awareness about the mental health challenges faced by veterinarians. By acknowledging the problem, we can begin to break the stigma surrounding mental health in the profession.
Veterinarians need a safe space to discuss their mental health concerns. The stigma of discussing these issues can make the individual appear “weak” or less than adequate among peers/colleagues, and clients.
Encourage open communication within the profession, where colleagues and employers can listen and provide support without fear of judgment.
Ensure that mental health resources are readily available. Veterinary organizations and associations should provide information on where veterinarians can seek help, including access to therapists and support groups.
Promote a healthy work-life balance. Encourage veterinarians to take breaks, prioritize self-care, and find ways to manage their stress effectively.
Offer financial counseling or resources to help veterinarians manage their financial stress. This could include guidance on managing debt or budgeting.
Incorporate mental health education into veterinary training and continuing education programs. Veterinarians should be equipped with the tools to recognize signs of mental health issues in themselves and their colleagues.
Veterinary practices should strive to create supportive work environments. This includes implementing policies that promote mental well-being, such as flexible scheduling and access to mental health days.
Veterinarians are essential to the health and welfare of animals, but they face unique challenges that can put their mental health at risk. It is our collective responsibility to support these dedicated professionals as they care for our animal companions. By raising awareness, encouraging open communication, and providing the necessary resources, we can combat the rising threat of suicide among veterinarians and ensure their well-being as they continue to serve the animal community.
- Sophie’s Legacy http://www.sophieslegacy.com/
- Not One More Vet: NOMV is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support, resources, and a community for veterinary professionals dealing with mental health challenges. They offer a private Facebook group where veterinarians can seek help and share their experiences. https://www.nomv.org/
- 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline https://988lifeline.org/
- Project Semicolon; https://www.projectsemicolon.com/
- Veterinary Hope Foundation https://veterinaryhope.org/#get-help
- Vetlife: Vetlife is a UK-based organization that provides emotional and financial support to veterinary professionals. They offer a confidential helpline, email support, and online resources to address a range of issues affecting the well-being of veterinarians. https://www.vetlife.org.uk/
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Resources: The AVMA offers resources related to well-being and mental health for veterinarians. They have information on stress management, support hotlines, and other resources to help veterinary professionals. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/wellbeing
- Mental Health First Aid: Consider taking a Mental Health First Aid course. It is designed to teach people how to recognize signs of mental health challenges, offer initial help, and guide individuals toward appropriate professional help. This training can be valuable for both veterinarians and support staff.
- Local Crisis Hotlines and Services: Depending on your location, there may be local crisis hotlines and mental health services available. These can provide immediate support and referrals to mental health professionals.
- Therapists and Counselors: Seeking help from a licensed mental health professional is essential. They can provide tailored support and therapy to address mental health challenges.
- Peer Support: Reach out to colleagues or friends in the veterinary field. Sometimes, talking to someone who understands the unique challenges of the profession can be incredibly helpful.
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Many employers, including veterinary clinics and hospitals, offer EAPs as part of their benefits package. EAPs provide confidential counseling and support services to employees.
- Self-Help Books and Online Resources: There are several books and websites that offer advice and strategies for managing stress, anxiety, and depression.
To all our beloved veterinarians, you matter. If you are facing a personal mental health crisis, please reach out to one of the resources above. We need you. Our animals need you. We appreciate you.