Mental Health Month: How the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is tackling the profession’s mental health crisis

19 Oct 2021
  • Research into mental health challenges of veterinarians has been undertaken by the AVA.
  • The AVA is developing a wellness strategy to help the veterinary profession thrive.

October is National Mental Health Month, an annual event which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues through education and advocacy. Of the estimated three million Australian adults who live with depression or anxiety every year, studies show that veterinarians are proportionally over-represented.  

Far from being all about spending time with puppies and kittens, working as a veterinarian comes with long hours, staffing shortages, financial pressures, and increased expectations from pet owners - at times, leading to negative vet/client interactions, and in some cases, even abusive behaviour towards veterinarians – all of which take a significant toll on mental health.

“Veterinarians bring their compassionate and caring approach to working with all animals, great and small. This empathy, combined with long working hours, high workloads, the attitude of challenging clients, and poor work-life balance, are contributing risk factors to the high prevalence of anxiety, depression, stress, burnout and suicide seen within the veterinary profession”, said Dr Warwick Vale, President of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA).

To tackle the crisis, the AVA has partnered  with SuperFriend - an organisation that specialises in designing workplace mental health initiatives, to assist us in developing a comprehensive veterinary wellness strategy for the profession. The project has just completed an extensive research stage, collecting the thoughts and experiences of those veterinarians ‘on the ground’, through extensive focus group discussions, one-on-one interviews and an industry-wide stakeholder survey completed by over 2,500 respondents.

“We are dealing with an extremely complex issue, so we have been acutely aware that the success of any wellness strategy developed, would be reliant upon the input of as many voices as possible from within our profession. The overwhelming response we have had from all corners of the veterinary community will help us to produce a strategy with the power to create the positive, meaningful and sustainable change we so desperately need,” said Dr Vale.

Currently, the AVA provides member access to a range of initiatives to support veterinary mental health and wellbeing. This includes access to the AVA’s confidential counselling service, an HR advisory service, the AVA’s Mental Health First Aid Training program and Graduate Mentoring Program, as well as seminars around resilience, wellness and mental health. This is possible with the help of our sponsors Hill's Pet Insurance, Provet,  Guild Insurance and Vets Choice.

“This complex problem requires a collaborative approach by not only the profession, but greater society, as vets are essential to the health and wellbeing of the whole community. In order for vets to look after the animals of our communities, we need to assist them to look after themselves”, says Dr  Vale.