Some 42.5% of vets and veterinary nurses are experiencing ‘abnormal’ stress levels, according to a research report published on Monday by the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI).
The report - Mental Health of Veterinary Professionals in Ireland - was collated following a study conducted by the VCI in collaboration with the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) and the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF) in April 2021.
Seven-hundred-and-forty-seven registered veterinary practitioners and veterinary nurses in both employee and managerial roles took part in the research, representing 18% of all veterinary professionals in Ireland at the time.
The research also shows that vets and vet nurses most commonly selected the stress factor of struggling with work-life balance, at 74.5%, as one which is contributing to their abnormal stress levels.
Some 66.4% of vets and vet nurses selected long working hours as a contributory factor. Other stress factors reported include providing out-of-hours care (38.1%), salary pressures (33.8%), recruiting staff (31.8%) and retaining staff (24.6%).
This report and its findings will help to inform and guide our actions in the future
VCI reports that anxiety levels were high among respondents across all roles within veterinary. Some 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.
When asked about the problems they had 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 at all.
The report shows that veterinary nurses indicated higher levels of psychological distress, self-harm and suicidal behaviour than other veterinary professionals.
VIC reports that 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.
Respondents who indicated that they work as veterinarians in a managerial position, such as running their own practice, indicated significantly better mental wellbeing than their colleagues on several indicators.
The study shows that 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, VCI highlighted 2009 UK-based research which shows vets experience higher level of anxiety and depression symptoms than the general population.
VCI president Vivienne Duggan 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.”
The mental health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals was one of the main challenges cited for the veterinary professions in the VCI Corporate Strategy 2019-2023.
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 VCI has developed a webinar on mental health and wellbeing, which will carry continuing professional development credits, which it plans to share with all vets and veterinary nurses in Ireland.
In conjunction with NOSP, the VCI is also working to roll out a specialist training programme for veterinary professionals to every veterinary practice premises in Ireland, to raise awareness of mental health risk factors and support Irish vets and vet nurses in their mental health.