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The Devastating Mental Health Toll On Our Veterinarians

They save the lives of our beloved animals, but vets die by suicide at four times the rate of the general population.

The Australian Veterinary Association says that on average, an Australian vet dies at their own hand every twelve weeks.

Psychologists say that there are a variety of reasons for this troubling statistic, but that the job itself creates a lot of pressure and stress – including a serious risk of compassion fatigue.

“The vets are dealing with their patient, the animal, and they’ve got that concern over the animals wellbeing but also the owner, and continuing to be compassionate can be very fatiguing,” explains psychologist Dr Nadine Hamilton. “Dealing with unrealistic expectations, but also a lot of the high expectations the vets place on themselves.”

Owners of pets are often shocked at how much they’re charged for services, but that’s due to the cost of the care. Vets themselves take home an average salary of $80,000 per annum.

And sometimes vets absorb the cost of treatment when customers can’t afford it, putting the strain on themselves.

“When you’re combining the stress of wanting to care and do our best and care for both the client and the pet, it actually causes considerable stress,” emergency vet Dr Gerardo Poli says.

Working in emergency means that Gerardo it’s usually the sickest animals that end up on his table.

“I had a shift once where I saw 8 patients but had to humanely euthanise 7 of them and counselling families through that decision process. How do we cope with this, is the challenge.”

Gerardo brings another patient into his surgery
Gerardo brings another patient into his surgery

Dr Flynn Hargreaves was a talented young veterinarian who seemingly had everything to live for. But last year, aged just 27, he took his own life, to the shock of his family and friends.

His friend Jack Levitt decided to honour Flynn by launching a walk to raise money, awareness and support for the mental health of vets.

Flynn’s parents Peter and Jackie discuss the walk with Jack
Flynn’s parents Peter and Jackie discuss the walk with Jack

“We’re making sure it’s about the community connecting, people feeling safe, that they can talk, they can talk about suicide, they can talk about feeling down, and open up if they need to, and in particular, the message around let’s look after our vets,” says Jack.

The second annual Flynn’s Walk will take place in the Melbourne suburb of Williamstown on Sunday May 19 – details are here.

The walk will raise money for R U OK and Nadine’s charity, Love Your Pet, Love Your Vet.

If you or anyone you know is in need of support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.