Poor Psychological Health Common In Vet Profession, Researchers Say

by Veterinary Practice News Editors | May 4, 2009 6:19 pm

Compared to the general population, young veterinarians experience a significantly higher level of psychological distress, work-related anxiety and depression, according to the March issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal, published by Wiley-Blackwell.

Furthermore, the study, “Psychological well-being of Australian Veterinarians,” found that at least one-third of the 2,125 respondents, regardless of age, reported poor psychological health.

“Anecdotally, veterinarians have a stressful job, dealing with sick animals, upset owners and the challenges of managing a small business,” said co-author Lin Fritschi, Ph.D., from the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research. “We found that the average levels of distress were about the same as other professional groups such as doctors. However, about a third of the vets, especially new graduates, had quite high levels of stress, anxiety and depression.”

Based on their findings, the authors contend that “professional bodies and veterinary schools may wish to consider the merits of providing training in dealing with work-related distress, anxiety and depression to improve the psychological well-being of veterinarians, and possible reduce the attrition from the profession.”

The authors also cited another study published last year in which the estimated rate of suicide in veterinarians in Western Australia and Victoria was three to four times the rate of the general population. The study, “Suicide in Australian Veterinarians,” called for investigation into the factors contributing to this high rate.

In related news, German researchers recently found that intense psychosocial stress is a risk factor for binge drinking and for regular drug use.

The study, “Psychosocial Stress, Demoralization and the Consumption of Tobacco, Alcohol and Medical Drugs by Veterinarians,” ran in the February issue of the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, published by BioMed Central.

The authors evaluated data from a sample of 1,060 subjects and found that most of the veterinarians (39.6 percent) were between 35 and 44 years old; 49.9 percent were practice owners; 22.5 percent were employed in a practice; and 27.5 percent worked in a non-clinical area, such as a university or a department of veterinary services.

The average working hours were 47.9 hours per week and 14.5 percent of the subjects worked more than 60 hours per week. The average employed person in Germany works about 39.9 hours per week, according to the study.

Respondents attributed psychosocial stress to time pressure due to a heavy workload, difficulties in balancing one’s professional and personal life, dealing with difficult customers and insufficient free time. Overall, 8.3 percent of subjects reported intense psychosocial stress.

The study also found that 17.1 percent of respondents rated that they are almost always/frequently dissatisfied with themselves; 16.7 percent rated that they are almost never/rarely optimistic and confident and 15.6 percent almost never/rarely feel proud.

Regarding tobacco consumption, 19.2 percent of the respondents reported that they are smokers with 8.8 percent consuming more than 10 items of tobacco goods per day. The study found that subjects with high demoralization values more often consumed more than 10 items per day.

About 31.9 percent of the subjects practiced high-risk alcohol consumption, defined as more than 20 grams of pure alcohol per day for men and more than 10 grams of pure alcohol for women.

The study found that women practiced high-risk consumption more frequently than men and that high-risk alcohol consumption was found more often in practice owners than in veterinarians employed in a practice or working elsewhere.

Information on binge drinking was recorded separately by asking for the frequency of consumption of five or more glasses of alcoholic drinks on a single occasion during the previous 30 days. About 21.9 percent of the veterinarians reported binge drinking on at least one occasion and 6.9 percent reported regular binge drinking, i.e. at least once a week, according to the study.

Binge drinking was found more often in men than women and veterinarians under intense psychosocial stress are about twice as often affected than their colleagues, according to the study.

When it came to medical drug use, 57.4 percent of the veterinarians had taken a drug from one of the relevant groups within the preceding 30 days, including tranquilizers or sedatives, appetite suppressants or stimulants, analgesics and neuroleptics. About 5 percent of the drugs had been medically prescribed by a doctor. About 19.8 percent used one of the drugs regularly, i.e. at least once a week, with analgesics being the most important group.

The study found that women and employees in practices more regularly took drugs and intense psychosocial stress and intermediate and high demoralization values are risk factors for regular drug use.

The authors concluded that their “findings support the hypothesis of complex interrelationships between psychosocial stress, demoralization and the consumption of psychotropic substances in the veterinary profession and underscore the need of further research.”



Veterinary Practice News ran the article “Substance Abuse: A Culture of Denial[1]” as its cover story last July, which explores substance abuse among veterinarians in the United States.


  1. Substance Abuse: A Culture of Denial: /vet-cover-stories/substance-abuse-a-culture-of-denial.aspx

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