The veterinary industry in Australia is in the midst of a mental health crisis.
New research shows that nearly 70 percent of vets have lost a colleague or colleague to suicide, and about six in 10 have sought professional help for their mental health.
The numbers come as no surprise for those with decades of experience, including the former national president of the Australian Veterinary Association, Dr. Warwick Vale.
Like many, he struggles with mental illness and takes the lives of his closest colleagues.
“(Many) don’t have (my) the same kind of optimism and probably haven’t had the same luck or luck to realize the benefits for themselves in their careers,” Dr. Vale to AAP.
“That’s not right – it’s a tragedy. It’s a problem we must solve and I think it will probably only worsen.”
The research, led by Dr. Nadine Hamilton with the support of pet food maker Royal Canin, reflects long-running problems in the industry.
Another larger survey by the Veterinary Association found that about 67 percent of vets have experienced a mental illness at some point.
Dr. Vale attributes the deteriorating mental health of vets to increasing customer demands, changes in attitudes toward veterinary care, rising costs, and dealing with people they can’t afford.
“It’s pretty demotivating for vets to cut corners on treatments or euthanize animals because of a lack of resources to treat them,” he said.
Dr. Vale said the profession has a lot of “household work” to better support workers and ensure the industry’s viability.
He said some work 12-hour days without lunch breaks, earn $50,000 a year and deal with customer abuse.
“We try to fix people after they break when really we should be focusing on preventing them from breaking,” he said.
Dr. Melbourne veterinarian Morgan Baum was lucky enough to find a supportive workplace that eases the hardships of other recent graduates.
She and Dr. Vale, however, agreed that there is a big divide between veterinarians and the community.
TDr. Hamilton’s research found that nearly eight in ten Australian pet owners are unaware that the suicide rate among veterinarians is four times the national average.
About four in ten believe vet salaries exceed $100,000, while novice vets with up to three years of experience earn an average of $87,810.
“People treat their pets like their children, and if they want the best care… it’s important that vets are sane, happy, and enjoy what they’re doing to provide that care,” said Dr. Baum.
She said vets were constantly in a flurry of highs and lows, from a euthanasia appointment to an appointment with the new puppy or kitten of a family.
“When you go home with your family and friends, you’re too exhausted to talk to anyone.”
Dr. Vale said that, unlike medical services for people, animal services received little government support, with no tax incentives for pet care and few resources for training.
He pointed to a vet in Western Australia who had to suspend emergency services over the weekend.
“Without community contribution and community recognizing that we will be poorer and worse off without a veterinary service…we will see closures, especially in rural and regional areas,” said Dr. vale.
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