Louise Taylor from Vet Support.

Louise knows all too well about looking out for others, as she is amongst the 11 veterinary professionals who volunteer for Vet Support.

“We’re all so busy in what we’re doing, we kind of forget to think, ‘Oh, well, is my colleague struggling?’

It’s not just focusing in on ourselves and our mental health, but kind of looking out for others as well - that’s really important,” says Louise.

Emotional wellbeing

Vet Support was established in 2017, after local research carried out with the support of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) found that the veterinary profession had a major issue with poor emotional and mental wellbeing.

It was through funding from RCVS Mind Matters that nine vets and two veterinary nurses received dedicated training by the Creating Collaborative Organisation (CCO, an organisation that specialises in business coaching).

Hence, Vet Support was born and the helpline now covers Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland.

Andy Mayne is another volunteer. He says: “It is a support service to help deal with, we probably quite like using the term ‘overwhelm’, people just get overwhelmed with stress.”


Andy hails from a small family farm in Co Fermanagh. “Growing up, I was very passionate about working with cattle,” he explains. “Ideally, I would have farmed, but the farm really wasn’t viable - that’s why veterinary seemed like the obvious choice of career.”

Holding a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine, Andy has been working at Jubilee Vet Centre in Newtownards for 30 years, 26 of which he has been a director. He is predominantly involved in the farm side of the practice, which makes up 70% of their work.

Louise has no farming background, but has always been mad about animals and farming. She says: “I’m married to a farmer and we have kind of built up our little farming business from there. He’s a cow man and I’m a bit of a sheep woman, but I have pigs as well. So, we’ve got the trio: cows, sheep and pigs.”

Louise qualified as a Registered Veterinary Nurse and worked in Glenn Veterinary Clinic in Bangor for 10 years, before deciding to move to teaching.

“I had my second child and decided that the long hours, working weekends and on-call wasn’t really going to be suitable,” she says. Louise now teaches at the Greenmount Campus of the College of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Enterprise in Co Antrim.

Stress in veterinary

From volunteering with Vet Support and his own experience as a farm vet, Andy identifies one of the main stressors for vets as being the long working hours.

“Farm animal practice, in particular, is quite focused around the springtime,” he says. “You might get very limited breaks during the day or you might not get a proper lunchtime.

At the end of the spring, the farm vets are pretty well burnt out. It takes some of the quieter summer to recover from it. Then you’re into the autumn again and the calving season starts.”

Andy says another big stressor is not enough time off, which can be linked to a national shortage of vets. The Veterinary Practice Survey 2021-22 by HLB Sheehan Quinn further confirms this observation, as 60% of respondents said that their practice is experiencing staff shortages.

Additionally, as pets have very much become part of the family over recent years, client expectations are becoming another source of stress for vets - especially when it comes to delivering difficult news or having to euthanise animals.


The COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on the veterinary profession, as it has caused isolation on the job. For example, for the past two years at Jubilee Vet Clinic, staff were not able to come to the practice for reasons other than picking up medicine.

Andy says: “Prior to COVID, you would have had maybe three or four vets coming in maybe at four o’clock in the afternoon and then they would have sat in the kitchen, had a coffee, chatted about cases, had a bit of banter and that just got completely lost.”

In general, veterinary can be a lonely profession, especially for newly qualified vets. “Particularly when people first qualify, they quite often would be away from home and the support network of their family and friends and it can be quite a lonely job.

They’re in a car, driving around the countryside all day, whereas I know the clients quite well and can have a banter and chat with the clients.”

How it works

Vet Support works on an email basis. The initial contact is made by sending an email to either a generic email address and whoever is on call handles it, or people can contact the 11 volunteers directly, as there is an overview of all of the volunteers and their email addresses on the Vet Support website.

Thereafter, vets can choose whether they want to keep emailing, have a phone call or in some cases people also choose to meet up with the vet supporters.

“We aim to provide a safe, confidential and non-judgmental environment where people feel that they can talk about whatever they need to talk about,” Louise says.

The training received when Vet Support was first set up has been invaluable to Louise and Andy. They say it has helped them personally, as well as training them to help others cope with overwhelm.

They help callers find their own way forward. They teach various coping mechanisms and techniques to deal with overwhelm.

Following up is a very important part of the helpline and the volunteers regularly check up on the people who avail of the services.


The overwhelm and high suicide rates associated with veterinary work may be frightening to people within the profession or to those who are considering it. It’s important to remember that for many veterinary is still extremely worthwhile and, as with anything, it’s about being open about mental health struggles and the realities of these more stressful professions.

Vet Support has been doing tremendous work, but there is also a positive shift in education that is aiming to support vets mentally.

Louise says: “The very first unit that we deliver to the veterinary nurses [at Greenmount], we teach them about ethics, but we also include personal growth, how to develop resilience, what mindfulness is and how important it is to manage your stress.

How to recognize things like compassion fatigue and we also help them to identify personal coping strategies.

“That’s actually part of their syllabus now. It’s great to see it being incorporated into the syllabus and not just delivered in addition to what they’re learning.”


Vet Support also regularly hosts workshops and delivers talks to vet students at University College Dublin (UCD). The Vet Support training is now part of UCD’s undergraduate degree.

Andy says: “That’s definitely the time; the earlier you get [mental health training], the better. You definitely want to be getting it before qualifying.”

The inclusion of mental health in education has not always been the case.

Through both Louise and Andy’s studies, it was not something that was discussed. Louise says: “We were kind of just told to toughen up and get on with it back then and, ‘don’t be so weak’ I think that was one of the things that was said to people a few times. But it’s nice to see that it is changing.”

Going forward

Staffing levels is something that definitely needs to be looked at in veterinary professions. Andy says: “I guess as a business owner we’ve got to look out for our staff better.

We’ve got to try and have as best as staffing levels as we can have. If we take on a new graduate, it’s very important that they know they have support, because they come out of college and they just go straight into the job. It’s not like medicine where you’re in the hospital environment. It’s very important that the new grads get support from their employers.”

Most importantly, whether in his own practice, in his work for Vet Support or in his personal life, it is all about the listening for Andy. A“One thing I have learned from the [Vet Support] training is: rather than giving somebody a good talking to, give them a good listening to.”

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