Mental Health of Veterinary Staff
15 October 2020

Mental Health of Veterinary Staff

According to a study by the AVMA - after graduation, one in six veterinarians consider suicide. The study also suggested that veterinarians are three times more like the to consider suicide, compared to the US national average. 1 to 1.5% veterinarians have attempted suicide after graduation.


Factors that contribute to high stress levels

There are many reasons that lead to increased stress levels in the veterinary field: Student debt is at an all-time high. Veterinarians and veterinary staff often end up working long hours. The work life balance in the industry is very poor.

Besides these factors, there's also the matter of the impact of pets and compassion and work fatigue.

1). The impact of pets

Treating a pet with chronic needs is quite difficult. This takes a toll on not only veterinary staff, but also on the pet owner.

Moreover, sometimes staff members and pet owners may also have to make end of life decisions which can be incredibly draining and devastating. The trauma and guilt of euthanizing can be extremely distressing for not just the pet owner, but also for your veterinary staff.

2). Compassion and work fatigue

Veterinary staff and veterinarians often end up feeling drained and numb at the end of the day. This may be because of compassion fatigue, and you should not be taking it lightly as it can lead to very serious health problems - both at the psychological level and the physical level. You can learn about the symptoms of compassion fatigue here.

3). The impact of COVID-19

According to the recent polls by NOMV, 67% veterinarians and 49% staff members have revealed that their mental health has been worsening during the pandemic.

Your staff members may often be so engaged with helping pet owners that they neglect self care. Not to mention the toll it takes on the employees’ mental health then they're not able to go to work and meet their colleagues and friends.

Even if the clinics are open, it may be difficult for your staff members who make the general guidelines necessary for preventing the spread of the virus, while also remaining committed to their jobs.

Tools to strengthen your veterinary team

It's important to have a strong structure established to support your staff and their mental health not just in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also as a matter of general importance. Here's what can be done by employers in support their staff:

1. Give them breaks

Make sure that your employees are taking necessary breaks and also encourage them to step out for a couple of minutes if they feel overwhelmed.

Also make sure that you are staffed adequately for covering any uninterrupted breaks due to mental health reasons. You can also offer vacation time and small breaks spread throughout the day to reduce burnout and fatigue among your employees.

2. Debrief often

There is a stressful situation, or something goes wrong, then allow your employees to take a couple of minutes off and clear out their head. After that, take a meeting and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the entire team. Also emphasize the strength of every employee. When there is a negative event don’t disparage, but encourage your employees, build their self confidence, and give them advice for performing better in the future.

3. Encourage learning

The same routine every single day can make your employees feel bored. Set aside time once a week or a month to give them a case study, discuss the disease, an article, or a new product. This will encourage them to keep their minds active and learn something new. They'll also feel more confident in applying what they have learned in real life situations.

This will boost their self confidence, and also improve the patient care. It can also make your employees feel like they have a purpose.

4. Make resources for help easily available

Offer employee assistance programs if someone feels discouraged or hopeless. Distribute brochures, create a company hotline, and place information related to mental health issues inaccessible areas.

5. Show that you appreciate the staff

Every single person working in the veterinary field is at the risk of developing depression, compassion fatigue, or burnout. Mental health disorders like these do not have any boundaries. Do your best to make your employees known that you appreciate them. You do not have to do anything extraordinary, a simple thank you at the end of the day, or incentives can make your staff feel taken care of and appreciated.

You can also organize company retreats and vacations to let the staff know that they are making a difference and you see it.

Self care resources for veterinary professionals

As a veterinary professional, you owe it to yourself to spend some time a single day taking care of yourself, because you spend all your working day caring for others.

Your mental and physical well being will also affect your ability to care for your patients, so it's essential to commit to self care.

Here are the key steps veterinary professionals can take to improve their mental well being:

1. Assess your well being

Take the professional quality of life assessment test to measure your current balance of negative and positive experiences. Use these results for creating a self care plan and figure out the areas where you need to invest more time and energy.

2. Focus on the workplace well being

Try to maintain a healthy and supportive work environment. This will not only boost your productivity, but will also increase job satisfaction and improve the quality of patient care.

3. Events and trainings

There are plenty of webinars and training, as well as in person events where you can learn about taking ownership of your mental well being and learn how to make health centered decisions at work as well as at home.

You can check out some of the state well being programs for veterinary professionals here.

4. Know the risks

Find out the risk factors involved in compassion fatigue, depression, and burnout. Train yourself to look out for the symptoms of each of these mental disorders, and also learn how to combat them.

5. Learn how to ask for help

The most important part of your well being is knowing that you need to reach out to others for help and then doing it.

No one is capable of handling everything alone, especially in the current scenario. If you think that you are in a crisis, reach out immediately to the local helpline center or contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s Crisis Chat team.

You can also find out more resources here.

Adapting to the new normal

The world has been irrevocably changed by the pandemic and none of us know what the future will look like.

Please uncertainty itself can be exceptionally difficult to deal with.

This is why we have to learn how to adapt to the new normal, not just at our workplace, but also in our personal lives.

Remember that it is OK to not be OK in the current circumstances, and you should always trust your gut if you think you might need help. And if you are one of the fortunate few who is able to deal with the current scenario on their own, remember to check up on your colleagues.

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