Veterinary physicians, who regularly volunteer at animal shelters, are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation, says a study.
"People who work or volunteer with animals are often drawn to it because they see it as a personal calling. However, they are faced with animal suffering and death on a routine basis, which can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, and mental health issues," said Angela K. Fournier from Bemidji State University in Minnesota.
A study from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association says that veterinarians, in particular, are at high risk for death by suicide. It also found that veterinarians from the year 1979 to 2015 killed themselves between two to 3.5 times more often than the general U.S. population.
Veterinarians who are coping with mental health issues may show symptoms common to all populations, such as downheartedness that impedes with regular activities or changes in appetite, says study, presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.
According to the researchers, absenteeism, increased medical errors, complaints from the client and spending too little or too much time at work are factors to watch for.
There is a need for paradigm shift in veterinary training to better prepare veterinarians not solely for the animal-related aspects of their jobs, but the human element too, the researcher believe.
For the study, the researchers looked at volunteers and employees in animal rescues or shelters and animal welfare and animal rights activists, who are at risk for psychological stress and compassion fatigue.
In the United States, more than 2.4 million healthy cats and dogs are euthanized each year, most often homeless animals in shelters, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
Shelter workers are then caught in a difficult situation because they are charged with looking after an animal and they may ultimately end that animal's life. Consequently, this might lead to significant guilt which further causes depression, anxiety, and insomnia, as well as greater family-work conflict and low job satisfaction.
"Animal welfare agents may also hear gruesome stories of animal abuse or witness the consequences firsthand when they are rehabilitating the animals, which can cause a lot of distress and lead to compassion fatigue," Fournier said.
By Sowmya Sangam