Although mental wellbeing is a concern for the veterinary profession, veterinarians as a group don’t experience psychological distress at rates significantly higher than the general population, according to a new study conducted by Merck Animal Health in collaboration with the AVMA.
The finding challenges data from a 2014 study that concluded veterinarians were at higher risk for mental illness and suicide than the rest of the population. While the Merck study indicated this is not the case for U.S. veterinarians as a whole, it did find that younger veterinarians and female veterinarians are more likely to experience psychological distress than the general population.
Conducted by an independent consulting group, the Merck Animal Health Wellbeing Study surveyed more than 3,500 AVMA members to quantify the prevalence of mental illness and levels of wellbeing in the veterinary profession. The study is the first of its kind to measure veterinary wellbeing by using widely agreed-upon scientific models and looking at a truly representative sample of the population.
Among the key findings of the study, released on Tuesday, are the following:
- The number of veterinarians who experience serious psychological distress is in line with the general population – approximately 1 in 20.
- Female veterinarians and veterinarians age 45 and under are more likely to experience serious psychological distress than older male veterinarians and the general population.
- The most frequently reported conditions among those veterinarians who experience psychological distress are depression (98%), burnout (88%), and anxiety (83%).
- High student debt is the top concern for veterinarians age 45 and under, with 67% rating it as a critically important issue. Other serious concerns include stress levels (53%) and suicide rates (52%).
- Of the veterinarians who experience serious psychological distress, half are seeking treatment, but only 16% utilize resources available through national or state veterinary organizations.
The study also measured how likely veterinarians are to recommend the veterinary profession to others, and results show younger veterinarians to be the least likely to do so. While 41% of veterinarians overall would recommend the profession to a friend or family member, only 24% of veterinarians age 34 and younger would do so. By contrast, 62% of veterinarians age 65 or above would recommend the profession.
AVMA’s director of wellbeing and diversity initiatives, Dr. Jen Brandt, welcomed the information provided by the study and said it can help shape efforts to improve veterinary wellbeing. “As an organization that serves veterinarians, our mission is to protect the health and welfare of our members and the future of the profession,” she said. “Studies such as the Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study provide helpful guidance on the types of resources and education that may be most beneficial.”
For veterinarians seeking wellbeing and mental health resources, the AVMA’s Wellbeing and Peer Assistance page is a great starting point. It includes tools to tackle financial stress and compassion fatigue, a listing of state-by-state wellbeing programs and peer assistance support, and much more. The AVMA also offers free training to help AVMA and Student AVMA members identify colleagues at risk for suicide and guide them to get help. We are continuing to develop more tools to address the challenges related to veterinary mental health and wellbeing.
You can learn more about the Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study and its findings in the Feb. 15, 2018, issue of JAVMA.