Being a vet is challenging and can be tough:
Stress is the name we give to our physical, mental and emotional response to pressure. Negative stress happens when the pressures seem to be beyond our ability to cope. Like many other responses, stress has evolved to protect us. The problem in our complex and sophisticated culture is that in most situations, neither fight nor flight offer a solution. We respond with a whole range of sensations (feeling sick, sweating), negative thoughts ("I'm a bad vet" "it must be my fault that client is angry…") and feelings (anxiety, confusion, irritability etc).
When you are challenged at a level you can just handle, stress increases your sense of being alive, focused and full of energy. People deliberately put themselves in stressful situations in the course of playing sport, climbing, public speaking and so on.It's when we feel that we have no control, no choices and we judge that the circumstances are beyond our capacity to handle that stress is experienced as negative and ultimately damaging.
Depression is characterised by a whole range of thoughts, feelings and physical sensations which are collectively designed to respond to threat. In cognitive behavioural psychology (CBT), three systems are described:
These systems need to be in flexible balance depending on the demands of the moment. Depression happens when the threat response system takes over and the other two are diminished. Clinical depression is when this happens to such an extent that our ability to enjoy life or even cope with the problems of daily living is diminished or disabled.
How depression actually manifests is understandably variable – we respond to threat in many different ways. As with the signs of stress, depression can show up as:
If you want to know more about depression, visit Understanding Depression on the Mind website.
Burnout is generally recognised as a previously meaningful relationship with a job or project which has now become stressful and damaging. It can be associated with symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and physical ill-health. Compassion fatigue is a more specific form of burnout in which the stressors revolve around patient and client distress. There is even a book about how tough it is (Compassion Fatigue in the Animal Care Community).
If your problem is with the job in general, changing your job might be an answer. If your problem is with animal and human distress, you might need to consider changing your career.
Many people reach a point of difficulty in their lives when killing themselves seems to be the only option. An extra risk factor for us vets is the fact that we are professionally trained to see death as a potential solution to poor quality of life in animals. This makes it easier for us to fall into the trap of seeing killing ourselves as a potential solution.
You are not alone. There is an enormous amount of potential help out there – so seek help as soon as possible – don't sit around with these thoughts or feelings. As a first option, visit our In a Crisis page and make contact with the sources of help detailed there.