Mental health: a global concern for veterinary professionals

September 12, 2019

Initial findings from a survey reveal that mental wellbeing may affect veterinary professionals on a global level, according to the World Small Animal Veterinary Associations new Professional Wellbeing Group.

Nienke Endenburg, PhD, Professional Wellness Group co-chair and psychologist (Photo courtesy of WSAVA)Emotional wellbeing is an international issue in the veterinary profession, according to survey findings from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association's (WSAVA) new Professional Wellness Group (PWG).

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Initial responses from 4,258 veterinary professionals presented by Nienke Endenburg, PhD, PWG co-chair and psychologist, showed that the wellbeing of younger and female members of the profession is particularly at risk, with veterinary nurses and technicians experiencing a significantly higher volume of wellbeing issues. (Last year's study, supported by Merck Animal Health, didn't identify mental health issues in the States, but did find problems with emotional wellbeing.)

“Our research, the first global study of veterinary wellness, confirms a probable correlation between a career in veterinary medicine and elevated risk of mental health issues,” said Dr. Endenburg in a panel after presenting the findings in July at the WSAVA World Congress in Toronto. “We are very concerned at the impact this is having on thousands of veterinary professionals worldwide and believe it must be addressed without delay.”

The survey consisted of questions on demographics and satisfaction with life and career as well as questions from the Kessler Psychological Distress scale, a validated tool to measure anxiety and depression. While the survey found no significant difference in mental wellbeing between regions of the world, results did identify a reluctance to talk about mental health issues in Africa and Asia in particular. Verbatims highlighted some of the problems from around the world that international veterinary colleagues say they're facing:

> “Mental illness has a stigma, so people don't admit it or seek treatment.”

- 39-year-old female veterinarian in Malaysia

> “Zawod means profession in the Polish language. It also has a second different meaning-disappointment. It suits vet life really well.”

- 35-year-old male veterinarian from Poland

> “The overwhelming sense of being unappreciated, undervalued and taken advantage of by veterinarians/superiors and bad clients is why I want to leave this field completely. There is no mutual respect.”

- 23-year-old female registered veterinary technician from Canada

Dr. Endenburg says the PWG is writing a scientific manuscript of the survey results and will develop an action plan to showcase existing mental health resources for veterinary professionals globally as well as a campaign to help reduce the stigma of mental health and to encourage veterinary schools globally to teach coping and problem-solving skills to veterinary students.

“We hope our efforts will be another important step towards bringing about positive change and enhancing the well-being of all veterinarians globally,” said Dr. Endenburg.