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Nearly 70% of veterinarians have lost a colleague or peer to suicide, study finds


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https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/jun/11/nearly-70-of-veterinarians-have-lost-a-colleague-or-peer-to-suicide-study-finds

 


 

Nearly 70% of veterinarians have lost a colleague or peer to suicide, study finds

Australian research shows six in 10 have sought professional help for their mental health

Expert puts Australian vets’ worsening mental health down to increasing client demands, changes in attitudes towards veterinary care, increasing costs and dealing with people who can’t afford them. Photograph: zoranm/Getty Images
Australian Associated Press
Sat 11 Jun 2022 14.24 AEST
 

New research shows nearly 70% of veterinarians have lost a colleague or peer to suicide and about six in 10 have sought professional help for their mental health.

For those with decades of experience, including former Australian Veterinary Association national president Dr Warwick Vale, the figures come as no surprise.

Like many, he’s struggled with mental illness and had close colleagues take their own lives.

“[A lot] don’t have [my] same sort of optimism and haven’t probably had the same luck or good fortune to have the benefits realised for themselves in their career,” Vale told AAP.

 

“That’s not right - it’s a tragedy. It’s an issue we’ve got to solve and I think the problem is probably getting worse.”

The research, led by Dr Nadine Hamilton with the backing of petfood maker Royal Canin, reflects long-running issues in the sector.

 
Another larger study by the veterinary association showed about 67% of vets have experienced a mental health condition at some point.

Vale puts vets’ worsening mental health down to increasing client demands, changes in attitudes towards veterinary care, increasing costs and dealing with people who can’t afford them.

“It’s quite demotivating for vets to have to cut corners on treatment or euthanise animals because of a lack of resources to treat the animal,” he said.

Vale said the profession has a lot of “housekeeping” to do when it comes to better supporting workers and ensuring the industry’s viability.

He said some work 12-hour days without lunch breaks, earn $50,000 a year and deal with abuse from clients.

“We’re trying to fix people after they’re broken, when really we should be concentrating on preventing them from breaking,” he said.

Melbourne vet Dr Morgan Baum was lucky enough to find a supportive workplace that mitigates the hardships faced by other new graduates.

However, she and Vale agreed there’s a big disconnect between vets and the community.

 

Hamilton’s research found nearly eight in 10 Australian pet owners do not know the incidence of suicide among vets is four times the national average.

About four in 10 believe vets’ salaries are more than $100,000, when entry-level vets with up to three years’ experience earn an average of $87,810.

“People are truly treating their pets as their children and if they want the best care … it’s important vets are of sound mind and happy, and enjoying what they’re doing to provide that care,” Baum said.

She said vets were constantly in a flux of highs and lows; moving from one euthanasia appointment to an appointment with a family’s new puppy or kitten.

 

“When you go home with your family and friends, you’re just too drained to talk to anyone.”

Vale said unlike medical services for humans, animal services received little government support, with no tax incentives for pet care and few resources for training.

He pointed to one vet practice in Western Australia that has had to suspend its weekend emergency service.

“Without a community contribution and the community recognising that we’ll be poorer and worse off without a veterinary service … then we’re going to see closure, especially in country and regional areas,” Vale said.

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When I was doing my vet nursing course, we had one assignment on Grief. It was mainly focused on dealing with the client's grief... and nothing dealing with vets and nurses dealing with the same issue. I struggled with that assignment, and when I handed it in, I also handed in a separate paper detailing possible ways to include dealing with staff grief and mental health. I had my teacher in tears with that - and I suspect that her switch to teaching might have been due to her own struggles with the mental health side of being a practising vet.

 

In many cases, vet clinic staff are treating an animal for days, week, months, years... we get attached to those animals... and when their time comes, we feel the loss too. Compound that by possibly seeing more than one long term patient for their final visit in one day, and it can hit us pretty hard also. Staff play an immense role in keeping each other's heads above water during the harder days... you can never underestimate the power of a good team that care about each other.

 

Another issue is when an animal is obviously at end of life, yet the owner wants the vet to do everything to try and prolong life... when we have those pets in our care it gets very hard. We had one little dog that we had to sedate quite heavily for it's issues, and it would vocalise when the sedation was starting to wear off... and the only way we could stop the vocalising was to just pick it up and cuddle it until we could safely dose it with the sedatives again. All the vet nurses were very distressed about the issue, as it was so heartwrenching for us to be having to comfort this poor little dog that just really needed to go to God... and the vet had more than one conversation with the owner about doing the right thing, but the owner was clearly not ready to deal with that option.

 

All I can say is please just treat your vet clinic staff well... they do their very best for you and your pets... they deserve a bit of compassion themselves.

 

T.

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Yes. 

I still have very clear memories of things that easily affect you long term. Multiply that over the long period of a vets working life and the stress has got to be   bad.

Apart from the long term clients you get to know, there are plenty of instances of people prolonging a miserable life as well the casual throwing away of of life from others. 

Holidays always brought in 1yo dogs to euth  rather than pay boarding fees or in home care. I assume many of those would have replaced their pets when its more convenient.

 

If I hadn't still lived at home with a parent I would have brought home a menagerie. I did manage to rehome some.

Edited by moosmum
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On 13/06/2022 at 6:57 AM, tdierikx said:

...

All I can say is please just treat your vet clinic staff well... they do their very best for you and your pets... they deserve a bit of compassion themselves.

 

T.

Yes .... so very important.   my last goodbye was a lovely gentle one .. ny 15 and a bit year old agility girl who had quite a gentle decline with lymphoma.  My lovely vet had known her from when she was a wee pup .. one of the first pups when he took over the practice, so a bit special.   We sat on the tailgate of my SUV in the car park while he gently injected the fluid .. and shed a few tears together while we waited to make sure she was gone.  I was so grateful to him for that morning.

 

And my goofy BC boy Rory who just loves people and cuddles, has been a comforter for the staff in my holistic vet's small practice when they've had a tough day.

 

I feel we as clients owe it to our vets and the staff to make compassionate decisions about ending life .. I always have in mind what a wise vet once said when she was considering the end of her own pet's life .. her mantra is better a day early than a day too late.

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14 hours ago, Tassie said:

And my goofy BC boy Rory who just loves people and cuddles, has been a comforter for the staff in my holistic vet's small practice when they've had a tough day.

Awww..perfect :love: 

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