Mears: A Sobering Number Of Veterinarians Suffer From Mental Health Challenges; Yours May Be One Of Them - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Mears: A Sobering Number Of Veterinarians Suffer From Mental Health Challenges; Yours May Be One Of Them

When I first began considering a career in veterinary medicine, I wanted to be sure I fully understood the profession. There's obviously more to being a vet than playing with animals. What I did not expect was the link between veterinary medicine and suicide.

In early March, our profession lost at least three veterinarians and one technician. Your social media accounts may have recently reflected an increase in mentions of veterinary suicide and the resources available to those within the profession.

One such resource is “Not One More Vet” or NOMV. NOMV was created in 2014 by Dr. Nicole McArthur as a online support group to discuss the good and challenging aspects of life as a veterinarian. Today, the private Facebook group has over 26,000 members and has expanded to include separate groups for vet students and support staff.

Another pair of resources is VIN Foundation's VETS4VETS, for vets and vet students, and SUPPORT4SUPPORT, for support staff. Backed by veterinarians and mental health professionals, VIN Foundation's resources offer mentor matching, private support groups, and additional support for those in recovery, battling cancer, or with mental/physical issues that affect ability to work.

Both NOMV and VIN Foundation offer veterinary professionals the opportunity to be heard. When the struggles of practice may feel too overwhelming, both groups are there to connect those individuals with mental health resources.

I've struggled to find the words to express my feelings in light of the recent losses. Veterinary professionals are hurting. It's statistically likely the veterinarian that treats your family pet(s) may be struggling. A 2018 study by the CDC found that “female veterinarians were 3.5 times as likely, and male veterinarians were 2.1 times as likely, to die from suicide as the general population.” Seventy-five percent of veterinarians who died by suicide worked in small animal practice.

It's natural to ask, “Why does this happen?” The truth is, it's a lot of reasons all layered on top of one another. According to AVMA, the average student loan debt of a new vet is around $180,000. Due to interest and salary factors, many people will take 20+ years to repay that debt, all while also saving up for a huge loan “forgiveness” tax. Hours are long, vacations are few. Many clinics are understaffed and busier than ever.

Additionally, veterinary medicine has become this odd blend of practicing medicine and customer service. It can be difficult to manage cases appropriately when everyone has Google at their fingertips. We often hear how, as veterinarians, we are backed by big corporations and are in their pocket. I can assure you that's not the case. In a world where just about everything is instant, we want our pet's medical care to follow that same timeline.

On top of all that, we aren't kind to ourselves. Not only are most veterinarians just hard on themselves in general, but within our profession we are, at times, entirely too hard on one another. Just recently we suffered loss after loss after loss after loss. We felt that strain, we worked to raise awareness. Then a few days later, I read messages of veterinarians arguing amongst themselves and placing blame in regards to what is the appropriate salary for a new graduate veterinarian just entering practice.

If we cannot be kind to ourselves and one another within our profession, can we expect those outside of our profession to be kind? Maybe in a perfect world, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

I'd say hug your veterinarian but 1) that's weird and 2) we're still in a pandemic. So instead I encourage anyone reading this… be kind. Be kind to yourself and others in your profession. Be kind to your veterinarian and each and every one of their staff members. I am by no means a perfect human being, but my goal each day is try to be a semi-decent one. Join me on that journey. Let's be semi-decent and just a little kinder together.

Dr. Rebecca Mears is an equine veterinarian practicing at Brenford Animal Hospital in Delaware. She is also a veterinary advocate with a focus in improving financial literacy and encouraging wellbeing among her fellow veterinarians.

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