Mental Health in the Veterinary Industry:
What You Need to Know
Warning… it’s a tough topic, but it’s hugely important and we’re going to tackle it head on: Mental health in the veterinary industry, and specifically – suicide within the profession.
Suicide isn’t easy to talk about, so it’s not necessarily widely known that suicide rates have increased across the country. According to a recent study by the CDC, suicide rates have increased nearly every year for the past 20 years (1999-2019). Specifically in our industry, the study identified that the suicide rates for those in the veterinary profession were significantly higher than those of the general population. Female veterinarians are 3.5 times more likely to die from suicide, and male veterinarians are 2.1 times as likely.
The numbers from these studies aren’t just alarming; they are heart-wrenching. In a 2020 study by Merck, 89% of veterinarians surveyed considered mental health and suicide one of the most critically important issues facing the profession today.
So what is it about the veterinary profession that can have such a profound impact on mental health? Here are some key points to consider:
- Compassion fatigue. Veterinarians enter this profession to follow their passion and a love for animals. They give tirelessly to their clients and pet patients, and it can be incredibly emotional draining.
- Work-life balance. The fact is that there are pets in need 24/7. However, if team members in the veterinary field don’t take the time to find balance for themselves and continue to give, ultimately they burn out. It is a delicate balance; they want to help every pet, but also have to honor their own mental health and wellness in order to be available, healthy, and able to help those in need.
- Veterinary pet patients obviously cannot speak to help better understand what is going on. Just like human doctors, veterinarians rely on diagnostic blood testing, x-rays, and their years of experience as they work to diagnose the issue for the pet. Unlike human medicine, however, veterinarians are more likely to have their professional opinions disregarded, second-guessed, or rejected by pet owners. And, in those difficult situations where the ideal scenario is unable to be achieved, it has become more frequent that clients utilize social media to create targeted attacks encompassing horrible harassment and unfair accusations. Unfortunately it has become so overwhelming that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) even introduced a Cyberbullying Response Assistance Hotline to provide support for professionals in the industry.
- Losing a pet is always difficult, and veterinarians are asked to perform this service more times throughout their career than they’d like to acknowledge. Ultimately it is the decision of the pet owner if-and-when to put their animal down, but it can also create emotional distress for a veterinarian as well as the circumstances are different in every situation. Veterinarians can find themselves having to euthanize a pet with an otherwise treatable illness or injury because a pet parent unfortunately cannot afford the treatment. And when it comes to shelters and rescues, veterinarians often have to euthanize otherwise healthy pets as an unfortunate result of overcrowding.
- This is often brought on by a combination one or more of the above; compassion fatigue, life balance, and even financial stress as the educational costs to become a veterinarian are significant and can create a student debt burden for those entering the profession.
So why share this information? Ultimately we know that our pet parents love their fur babies, and our AZPetVet team of dedicated professionals do too! We are here to be your partner in pet healthcare, and give our best day in and day out. We do this because we love animals. And we love those who care for them. It’s our goal to provide you and your furry (or sometimes not so furry) family members with WOW service every time you step through our doors, and we appreciate the incredible relationship rooted in trust and mutual respect that we work to build with each and every one of our clients.