People who work with animals and in animal health are often attracted by this sector because we see it as a personal calling, but at the same time, we are faced with a harsh reality that we did not expect. In addition to dealing with the suffering of animals on a routine basis, animal care professions often do not have the proper support or backup regarding animal protection laws and general social conscience that simply ignores what takes to be a veterinarian.
This often translates into working conditions without adequate remuneration or guaranteed labor rights, added to an activity that requires high physical and intellectual effort, very long shifts, increased risk for compassion or empathy fatigue and emotionally complex environments, and with little time to reconcile with other activities or relationships outside of work that can balance all of the above.
All this can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and also mental and emotional health problems. In severe cases to the point of causing rejection or even departure from a profession we love and definitely one of the most beautiful. Or worse, being trapped in it with the feeling of not having anywhere else to go or anything else to do for a living, with a permanent sense of dissatisfaction, failure and demotivation.
Many representatives of the veterinary sector are warning about the increased risk for mental illnesses that vet community individuals may be exposed to. They are also concerned that the affected colleagues might not seek help or give clear signs for others to recognize until its too late. Furthermore, the veterinary community should also be trained to detect and avoid toxic routines in time, as they can lead to team’s mental health degradation.
How to detect mental health distress
You will know that something is wrong if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Sleep disorders.
- Constant lack of energy regardless of rest.
- Wanting to be alone, avoiding socializing, “going about your business” at work.
- Not doing none of the things you like anymore.
- Withdrawal from friends and family activities
- Noticing digestive and skin disorders, aches, or pains for which there is no explanation.
- Being confused. Memory loss.
- Having sudden mood swings.
- Prevalent mood at work being frustrated, cynical, angry.
- Being unable to perform everyday tasks.
- Feeling overwhelmed, tachycardia, or pressure in the chest when facing a new day or cases similar to past ones that didn’t overcome.
- Feeling the need to hurt yourself or someone else.
The “burnout state”, defined by Maslach, implies emotional exhaustion, depersonalization of tasks and the feeling of unfulfillment. People suffering from burnout syndrome feel a lower self-esteem, despite of their sustained effort. The OMS has also recognized burnout syndrome as a mental disorder. This classification will come into effect on January 1, 2022. This organization also states that 25% of people will suffer from some mental disorder throughout their lives. These figures indicate that no one is free from having some mental issue to deal with.
Experts suggest that this change will give visibility to the ailment and decrease the social stigma that still affects mental illness contexts. As cited in the new classification, emotional burnout syndrome is associated mainly with chronic stress at work. It is characterized by both emotional and physical exhaustion and poor performance. Experts estimate that burnout affects 10% of workers, regardless of the area in which they work. However, we know that health professions are very prone, affecting between 2% and 5% of the professionals in its most severe forms.
What can we do to take care of our mental health?
We must safeguard our mental and emotional state all times, seek professional help if necessary, put aside prejudice, and also be attentive to the emotional health of those around us. Doing it correctly will help everyone in our community to cope with stressful situations, feel physically well, relate healthily with others, be productive, among other vital aspects of life.
Let’s start by putting these tips into practice:
- Follow a routine, respecting sleep and meal times (Guillem Parer interview).
- Exercise. Physical activity (Vet Yogi), of any kind, helps to secrete hormones that provide a feeling of well-being, such as serotonin and endorphins. A great way to put your worries aside and forget about clinical cases.
- Spend time on hobbies.
- Practice relaxation and meditation techniques. (Vet Yogi)
- Set realistic goals that help you focus your life.
- Maintain social contact with your family and friends.
- If something worries you, don’t keep it to yourself. Please share it with someone you trust or with a professional.
- If you figure out that a colleague is having a hard time, offer your help. They will be grateful (Interview Judith Soriano).
Shall we start?
Do not disturb!