Mental health is a concern for all, including vets
Greetings, Woof followers! Bienvenidos de vuelta! This time around, I want to introduce a topic that is very close to my heart, as it has affected people I love and me as well. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I would like to raise awareness of the emotional and psychological pressures that we face in the veterinary medical field. Needless to say, I am not a trained professional in the mental health field, so please be aware that this column is merely a perspective that we share in the veterinary medical field.
As we all know, the world has changed in many ways and so have our attitudes and behaviors. For some reason, being self-entitled and rude is a new norm that is somehow accepted and even
encouraged, especially through social media.
According to the Not One More Vet support network (www.nomv.org), one in six veterinarians considers suicide at some point in their careers. One in six veterinarians wants to die at some point because of the pressure we are under. Please let that sink in for a second.
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly made things worse, as people adopted more pets than ever (which is a beautiful thing), but we already had a shortage of veterinarians and veterinary professionals to start with. This means that, like the rest of the world, our hospitals and clinics are understaffed, which also means that the people that are currently working in the field are overworked and physically and mentally exhausted.
I have had many friends who are veterinarians and veterinary nurses who have, because of the challenges we have been going through, left the field or, have, sadly attempted suicide.
I have also seen colleagues getting divorced because they do not have time for their relationships, colleagues that do not get to see their kids grow up and colleagues who have abandoned their families or friends — because all we do is work and devote ourselves to what we love: helping animals and people.
Unfortunately, in the process of taking care of others, we have forgotten to take care of ourselves.
Some of the pressures that we face in the veterinary medical field come from different angles. For example, if we take longer with an appointment because that patient was very sick, the following client may be rude to us because they had to wait. We also see situations where parents do not follow recommendations and then complain to our medical teams that their babies are not back to normal. Many times we are expected to diagnosis a problem without performing any test, or we are expected to offer an affordable, magic pill that will cure all diseases.
Above all, the thing that hurts us the most is when people accuse us of not loving animals if we cannot see them right away because we are fully booked, or because we charge someone that may have financial constraints, or because we are not able to accommodate unrealistic expectations.
Most of us already work 60-80 hours per week and have no personal lives. So accusing us of not loving animals or not caring really hurts us. As medical professionals and animal lovers, we already have high standards for ourselves that are often unrealistic. Adding even more pressure has led us to have chronic and severe mental health issues, including considering suicide.
I think the big question is, how can we change this?
For one thing, clients can plan ahead when it comes to concerns they may have about their baby. And if you wait until last minute to schedule an appointment, please understand that we may not be able to see you right away. Also, please know that as veterinarians, we and our teams truly do care. We would never do anything to purposefully hurt your babies or make you feel uncomfortable.
The main reason we are in this field is because we love animals, often even more than we love other people. So if we recommend going to an emergency hospital, it is because we know we can’t provide the care your family deserves right away, and we want to be responsible.
We would also appreciate it if you can respectfully stand up for us and share reasons why you love your vet team when someone uses negative generalizations or speaks badly of their veterinary teams. Please listen to your vet team and follow their medical recommendations, but always feel free to have a respectful and honest conversation with them if you have questions or concerns. If you were not able to follow recommendations, we understand that happens; be honest with your team about it. But it is important that we do not blame anyone else for issues that may be persisting due to recommendations not being followed.
Lastly, please remember that we are human too, and we have higher stress levels than many other fields. It truly affects us negatively not to be able to help everyone at any given time.
I believe that the first step in changing our reality is to NORMALIZE MENTAL ILLNESS! It is OK not to be OK!
We need to have open conversations about how we feel and not feel judged by our peers. Also, we need to strive to be nicer to the people around us (including our veterinary medical teams), because rude behavior will not benefit anyone involved. We need to stop expecting that everyone is trying to hurt us, and we also need to authentically care about the people around us. We do not know what they may be going through or if they are even contemplating suicide. Something we say or do can break it or make it for someone.
PLEASE seek help from a professional in the mental health field if you need support. We are far from having an ideal world, but we should not give up, and we should inspire others to be happier and healthier. As usual, big abrazos for everyone and thank you for reading this column.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255
Dr. Josh owns Isla Veterinary Boutique Hospital at 14380 Marsh Lane, Ste. 110 in Addison (next to Tom Thumb). Call him at 972-738-1111 or visit IslaVet.com.