(By Louis Toffoli)
When people talk about veterinarians, they likely discuss all of the positive aspects of the career choice. 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 link between being a veterinarian and struggling with mental health isn’t widely discussed in the industry.
As someone who has worked as a veterinarian for over 35 years, Dr.Jeff shared what he believed is the cause of this mental health crisis among veterinarians.
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. No matter the medical profession, people flock to these careers because of their compassion and empathy.
Unfortunately, this sign of an awesome vet can also lead to compassion fatigue as they take on the burden of each of their patients. When you don’t disconnect from your patients’ feelings, you can begin to feel overwhelmed and depressed.
When talking about compassion fatigue, Dr. Jeff explained it by saying:
“Veterinarians are getting so involved in their cases and their patients that when things don’t work out, they take it personally.”
Each time a pet falls ill or passes away, you take the bulk of the emotional trauma. After a while, you will be emotionally drained, and many vets feel like they can’t handle the stress of the job anymore.
Financial Burden of Veterinarian School
There is a lot of schooling that goes into becoming a veterinarian. Additionally, many veterinary schools are at prestigious universities such as Cornell University and Michigan University. In most cases, veterinarians need to take out student loans to fund their education.
In the latest data, the average vet has $183,302 in student loan debt. 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 you 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 it—I 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.
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.