Nearly 70% of veterinarians have lost a colleague or peer to suicide, study finds | Mental Health
New research shows nearly 70% of vets 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 national president of the Australian Veterinary Association, Dr Warwick Vale, the numbers come as no surprise.
Like many, he struggled with mental illness and close colleagues committed suicide.
“[A lot] do not have [my] same kind of optimism and probably haven’t had the same luck or opportunity to see the benefits realized for themselves in their careers,” Vale told AAP.
“It’s not fair – it’s a tragedy. It’s a problem we need to solve and I think the problem is probably getting worse.
The research, led by Dr Nadine Hamilton with support from pet food manufacturer Royal Canin, reflects long-standing issues in the industry.
Another larger study conducted by the veterinary association showed that around 67% of vets have experienced a mental health issue at some point.
Vale attributes the deteriorating mental health of veterinarians to increased customer demands, changing attitudes toward veterinary care, rising costs, and treating people who cannot afford it.
“It’s quite demotivating for vets to have to cut corners on treatment or euthanize animals due to a lack of resources to treat the animal,” he said.
Vale said the profession has a lot of “house cleaning” to do when it comes to better supporting workers and ensuring the viability of the industry.
He said some worked 12-hour days with no lunch breaks, earned $50,000 a year and faced abuse from customers.
“We’re trying to fix people after they’ve broken down, when we really should be focusing on preventing them,” he said.
Melbourne vet Dr Morgan Baum has been fortunate to find a supportive workplace that alleviates the difficulties faced by other new graduates.
However, she and Vale agreed that there was a big disconnect between vets and the community.
Hamilton’s research found nearly eight in 10 Australian pet owners are unaware that the incidence of suicide among vets is four times the national average.
About four in 10 think veterinarian salaries are over $100,000, while entry-level vets with up to three years of experience earn an average of $87,810.
“People really treat their pets like their children and if they want the best care…it’s important that vets are sane and happy and appreciate what they’re doing to provide those care,” Baum said.
She said vets were constantly in a flux of ups and downs; going from a euthanasia appointment to a date with a family’s new puppy or kitten.
“When you come home to your family and friends, you’re too exhausted to talk to anyone.”
Vale said that unlike medical services for humans, animal services receive little government support, with no tax incentives for pet care and few resources for training.
He pointed to a veterinary practice in Western Australia which had to suspend its emergency service over the weekend.
“Without community input and the community acknowledging that we will be poorer and worse off without veterinary service… then we are going to see closure, especially in national and regional areas,” Vale said.