Mental illness a common struggle for veterinary professionals worldwide

In response to a recent online survey, WSAVA says it will prioritize global veterinary wellness

Nienke Endenburg, PhD
Nienke Endenburg, PhD

Veterinary professionals around the world are experiencing shared feelings of stress and diminished well-being in the workplace.

This is according to a survey conducted by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA’s) professional wellness group (PWG), which polled more than 4000 professionals, globally.

The results, which were presented at last month’s WSAVA Congress by PWG committee co-chair Nienke Endenburg, Ph.D, showed high stress levels are a common problem for clinical staff members worldwide, with women, young professionals, and veterinary nurses and technicians most seriously affected.

“Our research… confirms a probable correlation between a career in veterinary medicine and an elevated risk of mental health issues,” Dr. Endenburg says. “It’s likely this is caused by a combination of factors, including working environment, personal characteristics, and client pressures. 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 group is now analyzing the collected data and plans to develop an urgent action procedure to combat this issue.

“As part of the plan, we will share the helpful resources already created by some veterinary associations,” Endenburg says. “We will also develop additional tools to ensure all veterinary health-care team members can access help when they have—or ideally before they have—a mental health problem.

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

The results also indicate a particular reluctance to discuss mental health in Africa and Asia, PWG says. While the subject remains largely stigmatized in communities around the world, WSAVA believes the barriers to the open discussion of these issues are of significant concern in those continents, as they have seen rapid development of the profession in recent years.

During the presentation’s subsequent panel discussion, veterinary professionals were encouraged to take control of their well-being by making smart career choices, offering support to their colleagues, and committing to ‘self-care.’

“Well-being is the outcome of individual choices, organizational culture, and potentially a host of other factors,” says panelist Jen Brandt, Ph.D, director of member well-being and diversity initiatives with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). “When we refer to ‘self-care,’ we aren’t just talking about behaviours and choices that are comfortable or easy. What we are really referring to is the intentional, consistent practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being, recognizing when needs exist, and taking responsibility for addressing them.

“Sometimes this requires making difficult choices, including leaving relationships or environments that are not a healthy fit. I often tell folks we cannot give away what we do not have. If we want our environments to be healthy, a key starting point is prioritizing our own emotional and physical well-being.”

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