Vets in mental health crisis–how to cope?

With Mental Health Awareness Week coming up on 15 to 21 May, we felt the time was right to shine a light on stress in the veterinary profession. With burnout levels in the industry remaining high, it’s vital for veterinary professionals to take care of their mental health.

What’s stressing vets and vet nurses out–and what are some actionable self-care tips you can realistically fit into your busy life?

Stress factors for vets and vet nurses

  • Long hours
  • The intensity of the work
  • Feeling undervalued
  • Worries about their performance
  • Debt
  • Dealing with distressed patients and clients
  • Trying to be compassionate and emotionally detached at the same time
  • Poor management–many practice leaders are great vets but have little training as managers
  • The need to be self-critical, which can lead to depression
  • The typical character of vets–both competitive and independent, making it difficult to ask for help

Are you experiencing symptoms of any of these?

  • Compassion fatigue–also known as secondary traumatic stress or vicarious trauma–is emotional depletion caused by working with traumatic cases. Symptoms include sadness, apathy, irritability, intrusive thoughts or flashbacks, physical and mental exhaustion, social isolation, and poor self-care.
  • Burnout–a response to chronic stress. Symptoms include feeling exhausted, hopeless, cynical and alienated, and declining performance at work.
  • Anxiety–while everyone feels anxious at times, anxiety becomes a mental illness when it inhibits your everyday activities. Symptoms can include dizziness, heart palpitations, trouble concentrating, and trouble sleeping.
  • Depression–again, everyone feels sad at times, but when sadness is persistent and the things that used to bring you joy now feel empty, you’re probably suffering from depression. Again, this can cause problems with sleep and concentration, as well as tiredness and loss of appetite.

What can you do?

  • Keep a mood diary to monitor your mental health, process your feelings. and get an idea of what stresses you out and what helps. You can use apps like Moodily or MoodPanda for this.
  • Practise mindfulness. Again, there are plenty of apps for this, like Headspace, Buddhify, and Calm, but you can start by just paying attention to the present moment and what you’re experiencing through your senses.
  • Get some exercise. It doesn’t have to be a tough workout or take up a lot of time–the best exercises for mental health are walking in nature, jogging and yoga.
  • Notice how food affects your mood, and choose foods that support your mental health. You might want to check out the Mediterranean diet, as a 2019 study found it halved the risk of being diagnosed with depression.
  • Get help. We support Vetlife Helpline and Vetlife Health Support, which provide free, confidential mental health services for everyone in the veterinary industry. Or check out the Mind therapist directory to find a therapist.

If you’re too busy to try all five of these tips, just pick one to start with. While it may sound trite, it’s never been truer that to take care of your patients, you need to take care of yourself.

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