Mears: A bewildering number of vets suffer from mental health issues; Yours could be one of them – Horse Racing News
When I first began to consider a career in veterinary medicine, I wanted to be sure that I understood the profession well. Being a veterinarian is obviously more than playing with animals. What I didn’t expect was the link between veterinary medicine and suicide.
At the beginning of March, our profession lost at least three veterinarians and one technician. Your social media accounts may have recently reflected an increase in citation of veterinary suicide and the resources available to members of the profession.
One of these resources is “Not One More Vet” or NOMV. NOMV was established in 2014 by Dr Nicole McArthur as an online support group to discuss the positive and uplifting aspects of life as a veterinarian. Today, the private Facebook group has over 26,000 members and has expanded to include separate groups for veterinary students and support staff.
Another pair of resources is VIN Foundation’s VETS4VETS, for veterinarians and veterinary students, and SUPPORT4SUPPORT, for support staff. Supported by veterinarians and mental health professionals, the VIN Foundation’s resources offer matchmaking mentors, private support groups, and additional support to people in recovery, struggling with cancer or with mental / physical issues that affect the ability to work.
NOMV and VIN Foundation offer veterinary professionals the opportunity to make their voices heard. When the difficulties of the practice may seem too overwhelming, both groups are there to connect these people with mental health resources.
I have struggled to find the words to express my feelings in light of the recent losses. Veterinary professionals are suffering. It’s statistically likely that the vet treating your pet (s) is in trouble. A 2018 CDC study found that “female vets were 3.5 times more likely and male vets were 2.1 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.” Seventy-five percent of vets who committed suicide worked in small animal practice.
It is natural to ask, “Why is this happening? The truth is, there are a lot of reasons all layered on top of each other. According to AVMA, the average student debt of a new veterinarian is around $ 180,000. Due to interest and salary factors, many people will take more than 20 years to pay off this debt, while saving for a huge “forgiveness” tax on loans. The hours are long, the holidays are few. Many clinics are understaffed and busier than ever.
Moreover, veterinary medicine has become that strange mixture of the practice of medicine and of customer service. It can be difficult to handle cases appropriately when everyone has Google at their fingertips. We often hear how, as vets, we are backed by big companies and are in their pocket. I can assure you that is not the case. In a world where just about everything is instantaneous, we want our pet’s medical care to follow the same timeline.
On top of all this, we are not kind to ourselves. Not only are most vets very hard on themselves in general, but within our profession we are sometimes too hard on each other. Just recently we have suffered loss after loss after loss after loss. We felt this tension, we worked to raise awareness. Then, a few days later, I read messages from vets arguing with each other and blaming the proper salary of a new graduate vet who just entered practice.
If we cannot be kind to ourselves and to each other within our profession, can we expect those outside our profession to be kind? Maybe in a perfect world, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.
I would say kiss your vet but 1) it’s weird and 2) we’re still in a pandemic. Instead, I encourage everyone reading this… to be kind. Be kind to yourself and others in your profession. Be kind to your veterinarian and each of their staff. I am by no means a perfect human being, but my goal every day is to try to be a semi-decent being. Join me on this journey. Let’s be half decent and just a little nicer together.
Dr. Rebecca Mears is an equine veterinarian who practices at Brenford Animal Hospital in Delaware. She is also a veterinary lawyer and focuses on improving financial literacy and promoting the well-being of her fellow veterinarians.
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