New research report reveals mental health strain on veterinary professionals

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The Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI), the statutory body responsible for regulating the veterinary professions, has published a new research report examining the mental health of veterinary professionals in Ireland.

The research was carried out in collaboration with the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) and the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF) in April 2021.

This is the first in-depth study of the health of the veterinary professions in Ireland.

747 practicing veterinarians and registered veterinary nurses in both employee and management roles participated in the anonymous research, which covered the topics of depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, self-harm, suicide, mental health knowledge, stigma, help-seeking and sources of support.

This represents 18% of all registered vets and veterinary nurses in Ireland at the time of the survey, which is a strong answer.

Anxiety levels were high among respondents in all roles: 34.7% of participants were within the normal anxiety range, 22.9% within the borderline abnormal range, and 42.5% within the abnormal range.

The research study shows that Irish veterinary professionals are no more at risk of suicide than the general population in Ireland, based on a comparable study conducted by Maynooth University in 2020. However, we know, thanks to UK-based research, that vets experience a higher level of anxiety. and symptoms of depression than the general population (Bartram et al 2009).

Vivienne Duggan, Chair of the Veterinary Council of Ireland, said:

“Mental health in the veterinary professions is an often overlooked topic.

“The fact is that veterinarians and veterinary nurses face various stressors in their daily work, including long hours and complex cases. By conducting this research, the VCI hopes to better understand the factors affecting the mental health of Irish veterinary professionals.

“This report and its findings will help inform and guide our actions moving forward, and we hope it will be a valuable resource for the industry as a whole.”

Participants were given a list of stressors and asked which ones they are exposed to. The most commonly selected stressors included difficulty balancing work and private life (74.5%), long working hours (66.4%) and care outside working hours (38.1%) . Salary (33.8%), recruitment (31.8%) and retention (24.6%) were also common stressors.

Engaging in activities such as hobbies, exercise, spending time outdoors, and having strong social support were the main methods reported by veterinary professionals to take care of their mental health.

Veterinary nurses reported higher levels of psychological distress, self-harm, and suicidal behavior than other veterinary professionals.

This is also linked to the gender and age of respondents, with younger members of the professions being more likely to experience anxiety than older respondents.

Conversely, respondents who reported working as veterinarians in a leadership position reported significantly better mental well-being than their colleagues on several indicators.

Rachel Brown, Vice President of the Veterinary Council of Ireland, said:

“The mental health of veterinary professionals is one of the biggest issues facing the industry.

“This new research is a positive step towards a better understanding of this subject, but it is important that all stakeholders in the veterinary and agricultural sectors work together to try to ensure that Irish vets and veterinary nurses can work in a sustainable way, so that we can continue to attract and retain people in this essential industry.

When asked about problems encountered in the past year, 56.9% of respondents said they had encountered problems but did not feel they needed professional help, 20.1% said they had encountered problems and received professional help and 23% said they had few or no problems in the past year.

Suggestions made by participants to support the mental well-being of veterinary professionals include increased access to management, peer and professional support from therapists or counsellors, decreased on-call hours and increased time off when needed, promoting mental health awareness, psychoeducation and suicide prevention. training.

In the Veterinary Council of Ireland’s Corporate Strategy 2019-2023, the mental health and well-being of veterinary professionals was one of the key challenges cited for the veterinary professions. Since then, the VCI has launched the SafeVet Smart Handbook with the aim of raising awareness and supporting wellness and resilience in the veterinary professions.

The Veterinary Council has also developed a mental health and wellbeing webinar which will feature continuing professional development credits, which will be shared with all vets and veterinary nurses in Ireland, to mark the launch of the .

In collaboration with the National Suicide Prevention Office, the VCI is also working to make available to all veterinary practices in Ireland, a specialist training program for veterinary professionals, to raise awareness of the risk factors for mental health and to support Irish vets and veterinary nurses in their mental health.

The VCI also makes an annual financial contribution to the Veterinary Benevolent Fund, to support the health supports and initiatives offered by the Irish Veterinary Benevolent Fund. These initiatives are being implemented in support of the Veterinary Council’s strategic objective to “support the health and well-being of veterinary professionals” as part of its 2019-2023 strategy.

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