Mental Health Resources
Depression and anxiety are a common problem for most adults in the U.S., a problem that affects 40 million adults, or about 18% of the population. Often, depression leads to the inability to function in a healthy manner and can also result in suicidal ideation. The veterinary profession has seen a steady increase in the amount of suicides by veterinarians and vet techs due to various pressures that range from the financial to emotional. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention performed a study that found female vets are 3.5 more likely and male vets are 2.1 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population of the U.S.
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Becoming a veterinarian or vet tech takes years and a lot of money in the form of student loans or other debt to earn a degree. When looking at how much veterinarians get paid, it’s quickly apparent that it takes time to reach the income levels that are needed to balance out the needs of debt service, life, and operating a clinic. The job itself is demanding, lonely, stressful, and takes a strong emotional toll out of those who made the conscious decision to take care of pets in their time of need. Pet owners often take out their emotions on veterinarians because they feel they were betrayed by the person they entrusted to help their pet. Over time, veterinarians and vet techs become overwhelmed, take a look at the issues surrounding them, and convince themselves that there is no way out. At times, suicide is seen as the only way to escape the never-ending burdens that surround them.
A major issue facing veterinary professionals is the fact that there are not enough mental health services geared towards veterinarians and vet techs. Working with animals that can’t speak for themselves and providing them with health care is stressful in and of itself. Combine that with the issues that veterinary professionals face on a daily basis, and life becomes overwhelming. Many states have programs that are designed to help veterinarians handle the strain they’re experiencing, but veterinary techs don’t have the same support. In some cases, veterinary staff may not want to use state resources because they’ve started an addiction to help them cope, an issue that can cost them their ability to practice veterinary medicine.
Suicide is often seen as a solution when a veterinarian or vet tech reaches a point where they can’t cope with the pressures. Taking one’s own life to find relief is an extreme measure and is also an indictment on the lack of support professional veterinary associations provide to their members. Ignoring the toll that the profession takes on veterinary staff leads to a host of issues that ultimately deprives the community of qualified individuals who can take care of their pets.
How Veterinarians and Vet Techs Can Get Help
The extreme stress that veterinary staff experience can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex PTSD (CPTSD). The concept of PTSD being something only experienced by combat veterans is one that’s fallen away and is now applied to any individual who has experienced prolonged periods of extreme stress and is being affected by the issue long after the incident has passed. In the case of veterinary professionals, they not only have to deal with the past, they also have to deal with the present in terms of undergoing new sources of stress on an ongoing basis. This is why it’s important for veterinary professionals to seek out some form of psychiatric help and assistance to cope with their daily burdens.
Many state veterinary medical associations offer mental health resources for members, but many do not. On the surface, this can seem like a barrier to getting help and support, but it’s one option of many for veterinary professionals. Telehealth services, whether offered through an insurance company or sought out individually, have made it easier for people to get support for their mental health issues. Veterinary professionals should seek out mental health professionals who can speak the language of a medical professional and are able to empathize with the stressors that come with the position. In the event a medical health professional with that experience isn’t available, look for ones that have experience with trauma and/or addiction for the best possible support.
People from all walks of life frequently look at getting therapy as shameful, embarrassing, or exhibiting a form of weakness in asking for help for mental issues. This perception can prevent someone from getting help they desperately need. Changing one’s own internal language about getting help and gaining a much-needed perspective on their issues is far more important than listening to negative opinions about self-care.
Making the effort to gain a healthy mental state pays off in more ways than just having an improved outlook on life. Therapy helps veterinary professionals gain the tools they need to cope with the pressures they face on a daily basis. Gaining the ability to take confidence in one’s own ability to perform as a veterinarian or vet tech is invaluable when it comes to handling stress. A healthy mind leads to making better decisions, the capacity to feel for pets and their owners without being overwhelmed, and the mental space needed to make business and personal decisions.
The Issue of Mental Health for Veterinary Staff
The issue of veterinarians and vet techs leaving the profession or committing suicide due to the pressures they face have not gone unnoticed by the media. Following are articles that discuss the issue as well as mention steps that people can take to regain their sense of well-being and not take drastic measures to escape the pressures of their work.
- Veterinarians are Killing Themselves – NPR
- Can Online Therapy Help Prevent Veterinarian Suicides?
- A Suburban Family’s Personal Push for Veterinarian Suicide Awareness
- The Complex Relationship Between Veterinarian Mental Health and Client Satisfaction
- When Working With Animals can Hurt Your Mental Health
Therapy Resources for Veterinary Staff
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America is an excellent resource for all veterinary professionals who are in need of help and don’t know where to start. Mental health resources that are tailored to veterinarians and vet techs are also offered through various professional groups.
- University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Facebook Support Page
- National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI)
- American Animal Hospital Association Virtual Care
- Veterinary Information Network Vets4Vets Resources
- 7 Mental Health Resources for Veterinary Technicians
Well-Being and Self-Care Resources
Self-care and well-being go hand-in-hand with mental health support. One’s mental state improves more readily and easily when the body feels good and the mind is given a break from the pressures. Many professional veterinary health organizations have created guides to help veterinary staff practice well-being and self-care:
- American Animal Hospital Association Guide to Veterinary Practice Team Wellbeing
- National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America Wellbeing Resources
- National Institutes of Health Strategies for Fostering Resilience as Veterinary Care Providers
- Merck Manuals Self-Care Tips for Veterinary Professionals
- Irish Veterinary Journal Occupational Stress and the Importance of Self-Care and Resilience
- Community Veterinary Partners Cares: Mental Health & Wellbeing Resources for Our Community
State Wellbeing Programs for Veterinary Professionals
Many states have universities and state-specific programs to help veterinary professionals make it through an emotional crisis and find the support they need. The programs are designed to help veterinarians who are experiencing issues such as drug abuse, psychological distress, and physical issues that are exacerbated by depression and stress. Another aspect of the programs is that most of them keep confidentiality so veterinarians can maintain their licensing and income while undergoing treatment. Following is a list of states with programs to help veterinarians in a time of crisis:
- Alabama Veterinary Professionals Wellness Program
- AzVMA Veterinary Wellness
- California Wellness Program
- Colorado Peer Assistance Services
- Connecticut: Health Assistance InterVention Education Network
- Delaware Professionals’ Health Monitoring Program
- Florida Veterinary Medical Association Wellness and Well-being Committee
- Georgia Veterinary Medical Association Veterinary Wellness
- Indiana Veterinary Medical Association Wellbeing Information
- Maryland Healthcare Professionals Program
- Ohio Physicians Health Program
- South Carolina Recovering Professional Program
- South Dakota Health Professionals Assistance Program
- University of Tennessee Veterinary Social Work program
- Texas Professional Recovery Network
- Utah Veterinary Medical Association Membership Crisis Services
- Virginia Health Practitioners Monitoring Program
- Washington State Veterinary Medical Association Personal Well-Being
- Wyoming Professional Assistance Program
- Federation of State Physician Health Programs
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) also has a comprehensive wellness program to help veterinary professionals during times of crisis.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of mental health help for veterinary professionals, but most programs focus on licensed veterinarians. Some veterinary medical associations also provide resources for veterinary technicians, but mental health support is available outside of these resources and can be as effective as working with someone who has an understanding of the nature of veterinary work.
Veterinarians and veterinary staff who are unable to cope with the stress and are contemplating suicide can call or text warmlines and hotlines to get immediate help and support. The calls are confidential and are staffed by trained professionals who are there to provide compassionate support. Following is a list of phone numbers and websites you can call and text in a time of crisis:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 or text HELLO to 741741
- IMALive Crisis Chatline: http://www.iamalive.org
- The Crisis Text Line: http://www.crisistextline.org
- Samaritans USA: http://www.samaritansusa.org
In the event you feel that you need to talk to someone, but are not in a crisis state, you can call a warmline for emotional support. Mental Health America has compiled a list of warmlines in all states that offer them, and how they can be used:
Pass It On
Above all, help is out there, and you can feel better. Please bookmark these resources, and share them widely – you never know who may be suffering in silence.