The Depressed Doctor: Mental Health in Veterinary Medicine
It is no surprise to those within the field of veterinary medicine that animal hospital work can be exhausting. Many within the field are familiar with burnout and compassion fatigue. However, not many resources have addressed the incredibly serious and prevalent issues of veterinary anxiety, depression, and suicide.
The issue is worldwide.
Preliminary findings of a study performed by the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College found that, out of more than 500 Canadian veterinarians, about one-third of participants had anxiety. One in ten was classified as having depression, and a whopping 47% of respondents scored high on emotional exhaustion.
A 2005 study determined that the rate of suicide among United Kingdom veterinarians was about four times that of the general population and twice that of other health care professions. A 2008 article published in the Australian Veterinary Journal also cited death by suicide in veterinarians as four times higher than that of the general population.
A report published by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also confirmed that veterinarians appear to be at an increased risk for suicide compared to the general population. The report focused on a 2014 survey conducted through the Veterinary Information Network that received 10,254 responses from veterinarians throughout the United States. The survey found:
- 6.8% of male and 10.9% of female respondents had serious psychological distress.
- 24.5% of male and 36.7% of female respondents experienced depressive episodes since their graduation from veterinary school.
- 14.4% of male and 19.1% of female respondents considered suicide since leaving veterinary school. This is three times the United States national average.
Although there is still more research to be done, an assumption can be made that the veterinary medical field, including veterinarians and support staff, is at a higher mental health risk.
How can I recognize anxiety or depression?
It is often difficult to recognize mental illness, but the fact that mental illness is not as overtly obvious as physical does not mean that mental illness is any less debilitating.
Some signs of anxiety to look out for in yourself or a coworker include:
- Feeling nervous, tense, or fearful
- Panic attacks
- Rapid heart rate
- Fast breathing
- Difficult concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Digestive issues
Some signs of depression to look out for in yourself or a coworker include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Thoughts of suicide
- Restlessness, irritability
- Physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment such as headaches and digestive issues
What can I do?
If you believe your mental health is suffering, there are a number of different routes you can take.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association provides multiple resources for veterinarians and support staff. There are a number of articles as well as modules available. Many aim to help you recognize symptoms of stress, work on coping mechanisms, and learn to care for your own mental health.
Should you believe yourself to be beyond the point of self-help and selfcare, many employers offer mental wellness programs. Seeking therapy should not be stigmatized. Should therapy not prove to be enough of a resource, there is no shame in seeking medical management to better your mental wellbeing.
A 2013 report published by the Canadian Psychology Association concluded that, “in general, psychotherapy and medication appear to equally effective,” and that psychotherapy, in some cases of depression, anxiety, and related disorders, may even be superior to pharmacological treatment. A 2008 article published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry found that cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), one of the more heavily researched forms of psychotherapy, is a costeffective form of treatment for mental disorders. A 2016 publication in the Sadness Emptiness Worthlessness Insomnia Thoughts of suicide Canadian Journal of Psychiatry found CBT to be very effective for major mental illnesses.
If you suspect a coworker may be struggling, reach out to them. You will not be able to assuage their burden on your own, but letting someone know that you are there to offer support and to guide them towards appropriate resources is incredibly important and could, in some cases, save a life.
If you are feeling suicidal, there is always help for you, no matter where you may be.
The following is a list of suicide hotlines compiled from around the world:
Argentina: +5402234930430 Australia: 131114 Austria: 017133374 Belgium: 106
Bosnia & Herzegovina: 080 05 03 05 Botswana: 3911270 Brazil: 188 Canada: 5147234000
(Montreal); 18662773553 (outside Montreal) Croatia: 014833888 Denmark: +4570201201 Egypt:
7621602 Estonia: 3726558088; in Russian 3726555688 Finland: 010 195 202 France: 0145394000
Germany: 08001810771 Holland: 09000767 Hong Kong: +852 2382 0000 Hungary: 116123
India: 8888817666 Ireland: +4408457909090 Italy: 800860022 Japan: +810352869090 Mexico:
5255102550 New Zealand: 0800543354 Norway: +4781533300 Philippines: 028969191 Poland:
5270000 Portugal: 21 854 07 40/8 . 96 898 21 50 Russia: 0078202577577 Spain: 914590050 South
Africa: 0514445691 Sweden: 46317112400 Switzerland: 143 United Kingdom: 08457909090 USA:
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