A study of US veterinarians looking at the prevalence of mental health issues has found that younger veterinarians are more impacted by the stresses of the profession than those further along in their career.
Depression (94 percent), burnout (88 percent) and anxiety (83 percent) were the most frequently reported conditions in the study by Merck Animal Health.
It found that veterinarians age 45 and younger are more likely to experience serious psychological distress and only 27 percent of them would endorse the profession to a friend or family member.
Study investigator Linda Lord, Ph.D., D.V.M, said the Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study was unique in that it used, for the first time, a nationally representative sample of veterinarians in the US, who were asked about their wellbeing, which is a broader measure of happiness and life satisfaction than mental health alone.
“Based on the survey results, we are particularly concerned about younger veterinarians as they are the future of our profession. We must work together to promote a healthy lifestyle, including work/life balance, access to wellness resources and debt reduction,” Lord said.
It revealed that about 1 in 20 veterinarians were suffering from serious psychological distress, which is in line with the general population. However, when segmenting the data by age, younger veterinarians are more impacted by the financial and emotional stresses of professional veterinary life, compared to both older male veterinarians and individuals in the general population.
Among younger veterinarians, high student debt was the top concern voiced, with 67 percent rating it as a critically important issue. In 2017, the average veterinary student graduated with more than $138,000 in student debt, nearly twice the average starting salary for a veterinarian. The other most serious issues were stress levels (53%) and suicides rates (52%).
Only half of veterinarians with serious psychological distress are seeking help, compounded by the fact that few employers offer employee assistance programs. Only 16 percent had ever accessed resources regarding wellbeing and mental health through national or state veterinary organizations.
Jen Brandt, director of wellbeing and diversity initiatives at the AVMA said veterinarians often find themselves giving up the things that improve wellbeing and provide a healthy balance in life, such as family, friends and time for self-care.
“Veterinarians today cope with a physically and emotionally demanding occupation that is undergoing changes from increased competition to the declining ability of clients to pay for veterinary care,” she said.
Only 41 percent of veterinarians overall said they would recommend the profession to a friend or family member; even large numbers of those that score high in wellbeing and mental health do not recommend the profession. The endorsement rate drops to 24 percent for those 34 years old and younger. In contrast, 62 percent of veterinarians age 65 and older would recommend the profession.
The online survey by Merck in collaboration with the AVMA was conducted by Brakke Consulting in November 2017 among 3540 of a sample of 20,000 randomly selected veterinarians in the US. For mental health, the study used the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale to identify veterinarians suffering from serious psychological distress.