New study measures mental wellbeing among veterinarians

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 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.
  • 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.

6 thoughts on “New study measures mental wellbeing among veterinarians

  1. Yet another example if the AVMA not actually listening to it’s own profession and trying to gloss over the details to make everything look like butterflies and rainbows. For the amount of dues they ask for, one would think they would be more supportive of the profession, instead of being one of the largest stressors.
    Probably why many of us aren’t members.

  2. I too would like to see the questions asked in this new study.

    As Chairman of the Veterinary Wellness Committee for the Ky Board of Veterinary Examiners I am very interested in this study.

  3. I’ve been a DVM for 49 years. MUCH has changed in the half century since I started in this profession.
    Is there any way that those of us who were NOT chosen for the survey could see the questions asked? I have some opinions about the changes in the profession but before I comment on anything I’d like to see if any of my concerns were covered in your questions. It’s makes a big difference if they were or they weren’t!

    • I have been the young woman w. many hats to wear.I made it past the Holy shit.. what do I do now. I am still a solo practice owner.

    • No you may not. This is a big money pharmaceutical study done by a top five animal health company, designed to convince its customers that everything’s really alright, despite the umpteen studies that have come out in the US and Europe over the past decade indicating the opposite. The only real conclusion here is that pharmaceutical companies with a financial interest (ie, keeping vets up and running instead of in the therapists office) can not be trusted.

      • I completely agree JD! This is a cover that things are alright and they are not.
        Who was asked in this study and what were the questions asked?
        We all know student debt is a HUGE problem, it creates slavery!!
        What are the percentages of the overall study?
        Example: Of the 100% that were asked 98% percent of those are depressed? If so, that is SO very alarming!!
        Or out the 100 % you asked, 50% are depressed? And if so, what was the market of that 50%? Owners, associates, etc?
        Bureau of Labor Statistics report approximately 68,000 vets employed .
        AVMA reports 110, 000 vets employed.
        3500 is hardly a representative market.
        There are so many layers here and they include the layers of our overall society, government and don’t forget the corporate greed!! Not only in the US but in the world.

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