Silent struggle: Mental health crisis grips South Africa’s vets

Following the 39th Annual World Veterinary Congress recently In Cape Town, where the mental well-being of vets was a priority, experts called on vets to take care of themselves and seek help when they need it.

Some of the challenges facing veterinarians in South Africa include a demanding profession and a complex emotional landscape that pushes many veterinarians to the brink. This has raised concerns about burnout, compassion fatigue, and the overall well-being of the profession.

The importance of veterinary care lies in its crucial role in safeguarding the health and welfare of animals, as well as in the prevention and treatment of diseases, thereby contributing to public health, environmental protection and the well-being of animals and humans.

It has an emotional impact

Quixi Sonntag, a lecturer at the Department of Production Animal Studies at the University of Pretoria, highlighted the type of environments veterinarians are exposed to on a daily basis.

“Veterinarians need specialized knowledge and skills that require mental effort in their daily work. In addition, the work is physically demanding and sometimes even dangerous when handling aggressive animals. she says.

Sonntag explained that long work hours, the emotional burden of treating patients and administrative burdens all contribute to a significant mental strain. “This unrelenting pressure can lead to burnout, a state of emotional exhaustion that can impact veterinarians’ ability to effectively care for animals,” she said.

According to Sonntag, the veterinary profession can be fertile ground for silence when it comes to mental health. “Veterans generally do not share their mental difficulties. Stigma plays a role here, as does fierce independence (saying), ‘I can work this out myself, I don’t need any help,'” she said.

Sonntag offers a multi-faceted approach, open communication with clients about the challenges veterinarians face, eliminating the stigma around mental health within the profession, and ensuring veterinarians are informed about mental health services. support available.

Meanwhile, technical veterinarian Rudél Zowitsky said the morale of many veterinarians is extremely low and this is impacting the work they do.

“The anger and frustration that accompanies the moral distress of veterinarians is visible in every industry in which they are involved,” she said.

A culture of silence

This culture of stoicism prevents veterinarians from seeking the support they need, which could lead to more serious mental health problems.

While the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA) offers a suicide prevention helpline, Zowitsky acknowledges that “many veterinarians may not even be aware of this service.”

Zowitsky said the mental health crisis is not just a personal struggle for veterinarians, but it affects the profession as a whole. “These issues are affecting veterinarians around the world, both through shortages and mental health issues.

“Unfortunately, for economic and political reasons, many veterans are leaving South Africa, but they still face the pressure of veterinary work, even where the grass is greener. »

She highlighted the need for public awareness: “The public is still not fully, if at all, aware of mental health issues in veterinary science. »

Zowitsky suggests educating the public about the emotional and financial realities of veterinary care to foster empathy and understanding.

Recognizing the mental health issues of South African veterinarians, fostering open communication and creating a supportive environment could play a crucial role in helping to ensure the well-being of animals and the professionals who tirelessly care for them, she said. -she concluded.

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