Mental Health in the Veterinarian World

Mental Health in the Veterinarian World

(By Louis Toffoli

 

Ah, the world of Veterinary medicine. Working with animals, making a positive difference, and earning an excellent salary attracts many to the profession. 

While being a veterinarian can be a very rewarding career, it has its disadvantages as well. The correlation between being a veterinarian and struggling with mental health isn’t as widely discussed in the industry as (perhaps) it should be.  

Shocking Veterinary Mental Health Statistics

In the United States, there has been a rise in suicide rates among all demographics. However, the suicide rates of veterinarians have risen disproportionately. In a study conducted by the CDC, there was a shocking revelation when comparing veterinarians to the general population. 

Compared to the general population, female veterinarians are 3.5x more likely, and male veterinarians are 2.1x more likely to die from suicide. These numbers are alarming, and they aren’t linked to any sole reason. 

People believe several factors lead to this high suicide rate, with one even being the type of practice. In this article, we will be shining a light on the mental health impacts of being in the veterinary field. 

Compassion Fatigue, and Stress

One of the first things Dr.Jeff mentioned that could impact your mental health as a veterinarian is “compassion fatigue”. In most lines of medical work, candidates are attracted to the position because they’re compassionate and empathetic, but having a stronger sense of compassion than most does not leave one immune to exhaustion. 

Unfortunately, the exact signs of an awesome vet can also lead to that “compassion fatigue”, as they take on the burden of each of their patients. It’s not uncommon to quickly feel overwhelmed and depressed, if one tries to remove all their emotional connection to the patients, too. Damned if you care, damned if you don’t!

When talking about compassion fatigue, Dr. Jeff says: 

Veterinarians are getting so involved in their cases and their patients that when things don’t work out, they take it personally.” 

Not to place blame, but rather to understand the source of this exhaustion.

Each time a pet falls ill or passes away, the vet is the one that takes on the bulk of the emotional trauma. It doesn’t take long for the emotional drain to set it, and that’s when many vets feel like they can’t handle the stress of the job anymore. 

Financial Burden of Veterinarian School

Another strain that’s ladened on the shoulders of newly graduating veterinarians, is the ever-mounting school debt. Dr. Jeff Werber recalls the days of yore, when it was a manageable loan that could be paid off within a matter of years. Now, however, vet school tuition costs are higher than ever – a serious damper for passionate vet med students.  

In the latest data, the average vet has $183,302 in student loan debt. Insurmountable.

With a total student loan amount this high, the average monthly payment would be over $2,000 on a standard 10-year repayment plan. 

These loan payments lead many vets to feel overwhelmed and trapped in their financial situation. This burden can be even more significant for new veterinarians as they will earn less at the start of your career. The average veterinarian student makes $76,663 when they get their first job out of school. Without a strong support system, many veterinarians feel discouraged from the very start of their careers.

Added Pressures of Social Media

There is a more recent issue within the veterinary industry as well. Social media has become a place where veterinarians receive backlash. Whether from animal activists or unhappy customers, social media has added stress to many veterinarians’ lives. 

Dr.Jeff mentioned the new prevalence of bullying, saying:

“There is a lot of cyberbullying going on. If a doctor does not have strong self-worth or personality, and they can’t handle itI think they succumb to the pressure.”

In a tragic situation, Dr. Shirley Koshi took her own life following an experience with harsh cyberbullying in 2014. Many of these cyberbullying situations result in a loss of business and financial troubles as well.

With the new age of social media and online reviews, veterinarians need to develop a stronger personality. While animal activists may attack your decisions online, you have the self-worth to know you made the correct choice.  

Note to Would-Be Vets:

Mental health awareness in the veterinarian world is starting to get the attention it deserves. The career can be challenging for many new and experienced vets as they cope with the emotional and financial burden of this field. However, for those that love animals, the obstacles can be overcome.