04 Jul 2022

New research report reveals mental health strain on veterinary professionals

New research report reveals mental health strain on veterinary professionals

42.5% of Veterinary Professionals Experience Abnormal Levels of Stress

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 conducted 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 comprehensive study on the health of the veterinary professions in Ireland.

747 registered veterinary practitioners and veterinary nurses in both employee and managerial roles took part in the anonymized research, which covered the topics of depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, deliberate self-harm, suicide, mental health knowledge, stigma, help-seeking and sources of support.

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

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

The Research study shows the Irish Veterinary Professionals are at no greater risk of suicidality than the general population in Ireland, based on a comparable study carried out by Maynooth University in 2020. However, we know from UK based research that Vets experience higher level of anxiety and depression symptoms than the general population (Bartram et al 2009).

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

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

“The fact of the matter is that vets and vet nurses face a variety of stress factors in their day to day work including long hours and complex cases. By conducting this research, the VCI hopes to gain deeper insight into the factors affecting the mental health of Ireland’s veterinary professionals.

“This report and its findings will help to inform and guide our actions in the future, and we hope it will be a valuable resource for the wider industry.”

Participants were presented with a list of stress factors and asked to indicate which they are exposed to. The most commonly selected stress factors included struggling with work-life balance (74.5%), long working hours (66.4%), and out of hours care (38.1%). Salary (33.8%), recruitment (31.8%) and retention (24.6%) were also common stress factors.

Engaging with activities, such as hobbies, exercise, spending time outdoors and having strong social support were the main methods reported by veterinary professionals for looking after their mental health.

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

This is related to the sex and age of the respondents also, with younger members of the professions more like to experience anxiety than older respondents.

Conversely, respondents who indicated that they work as veterinarians in a managerial position indicated significantly better mental wellbeing than their colleagues on several indicators.

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

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

“This new research is a positive step towards gaining deeper insight on this topic, but it is important that all stakeholders in the veterinary and agricultural sectors work together to try to ensure that Ireland’s vets and vet 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 experienced over the past year, 56.9% of respondents reported that they had experienced problems but didn’t feel they needed professional help, 20.1% reported that they had experienced problems and that they had received professional help and 23% reported that they had few or no problems in the past year.

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

In the Veterinary Council of Ireland’s Corporate Strategy 2019-2023, the mental health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals was one of the main challenges cited for the veterinary professions. Since then, the VCI has launched the SafeVet Smart Handbook in an effort to raise awareness and support wellbeing and resilience in the veterinary professions.

The Veterinary Council has also developed a webinar on mental health and wellbeing which will carry Continuing Professional Development credits, which will be shared with all vets and veterinary nurses in Ireland, to mark the launch of the .

In conjunction with the National Office of Suicide Prevention, the VCI is also working to make available to every veterinary practice premises in Ireland, a specialist training programme for veterinary professionals, to raise awareness of mental health risk factors and support Irish vets and vet nurses in their mental health.

The VCI also makes a financial contribution to the Veterinary Benevolent Fund annually, to support the health supports and initiatives offered by the Irish Veterinary Benevolent Fund. These initiatives are being delivered in support of the Veterinary Council’s strategic objective to ‘support the health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals’ under its 2019-2023 Strategy.

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