It’s no surprise that veterinarians disproportionately suffer from burnout, stress and other related mental health problems—especially with today’s historic staff shortages. DVMs feel the unrelenting demands of running their hospitals while caring for their patients, they work long hours and usually must bring their work home. In addition, they’re stressed and often feel like there’s no one to turn to.
What people may not realize is that there is another group of veterinary professionals (like myself) who suffer from the same pressures on and off the job…and those are veterinary technicians.
The emotional connections vet techs make with clients, combined with our jobs’ stringent requirements, play a huge role in our personal and professional wellbeing. Because of the pressure and stress that are built into our profession, mental illness also takes a toll on vet techs.
The good news is that there are simple things we can do to stay healthy and happy in our own jobs while helping other vet techs, veterinarians and hospital staff do the same in this challenging (and rewarding) field. After all, most of us knew what we were getting into in the first place!
The first step is to slow down and notice the signs of burnout and stress that you may be feeling, and may not even recognize. Some of these may come with the job, but the damage they can cause doesn’t have to. These markers include consistently low performance, exhaustion, a high level of frustration, impatience with co-workers and lack of motivation. It can also be feeling isolated, embarrassed about your mistakes and hopeless. If you recognize that a few of these have become a constant for you, in and out of work, it’s time to do something about it.
In a profession like ours, it’s easy to get up, go to work, go to bed and then start over again. Because we put our clients’ needs first, it’s easy to forget our own. That’s a mistake! Take a few minutes (or hours) to remember what brings you joy. Maybe it’s listening to music and starting your day with that one song that makes you sing. Maybe it’s hitting the gym rather than berating yourself about the membership you’re wasting. When was the last time you gave yourself permission to binge watch a show or start a hobby? Whatever it is, just do it!
Once you recognize your own emotional and physical state, look around. Start to notice troubling signs like isolation and depression among your colleagues and model breaking the stigma of talking about it. Listen to them. Be open about the little (and big) uplifting or calming things you’re doing to find satisfaction and joy. Encourage them to check out the array of in-person, virtual and online mental health resources available.
Many employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides a confidential source for employees to use for support, including therapy. An additional resource is Not One More Vet Support Staff (NOMVSS), which is a private, peer-to-peer support group on Facebook that provides members unlimited mental health support resources.
Vet techs are every bit as much on the front line as veterinarians, and the emotional connections and mental health distress they experience every day can be the same. Many of the issues these professionals face flow below the surface, and the only way to help is to speak openly about them, demonstrate healthy habits and foster supportive relationships. +