Mental Health Survey Report
Data Collected on Sophie's Legacy between February 2022 and May 2022

In a study by Monash University, 2020 about the occupations with highest risk of suicide, it was reported that ‘The suicide rate amongst vets is twice as high than in other health disciplines, and four times higher than the general population’. Dr Nadine Hamilton says in her study that ‘nearly 70% of veterinarians have lost a colleague or peer to suicide and 60% have sought professional help for their mental health'. Dr Warwick Vale, former President of the AVA, thinks the problem is getting worse. He ‘puts vets’ worsening mental health down to increasing client demands, changes in attitudes towards veterinary care, increasing costs and dealing with people who can’t afford them’. The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) conducted a mental health survey in 2021.

The following were determined as key factors:

  1. Challenging client interactions & expectations
  2. Interpersonal conflict with colleagues
  3. Working long hours
  4. Experiencing financial strain
  5. High workload & pressure
The AVA, to their credit, have led initiatives addressing the mental health support for the industry. We support this, but it seems little has been done to ‘prevent’ poor mental health in the industry. The AVA have recently established their THRIVE initiative. We believe the ‘prevention’ of mental health stressors require significant structural reform, the re-thinking of traditional practices, and a focus on the individuals in the industry who frankly ARE the industry!! The above list of concerns are things that can be addressed.

Sophie's Legacy Survey
Our Sophie loved being a vet but she struggled mentally with the demands of the profession and explicitly mentioned unreasonable workload, client abuse and demands, compassion fatigue and toxic work practices. Sophie experienced a serious form of ‘client abuse’ the Monday prior to her death. Whilst she tried her best to address some of the experiences she encountered, the vet industry wore her down and she died by suicide on September 4, 2021 at 33 years of age. A significant loss to the industry. A tragedy for the family, her friends and especially her colleagues. Sophie was a well respected, intelligent, compassionate, and caring vet.

In order to honour Sophie we created Sophie’s Legacy. Our goal is to reduce the rate of suicide in the vet profession. This has been known for some 15-20 years and yet, whilst this is a multi-faceted problem, the industry moves on from one suicide to the next with little attention or addressing of the core issues. We wanted to conduct a survey which drew responses from the younger vets, as we heard that there was a generational gap in those vets who have survived the industry and the younger vets who are developing coping mechanisms to survive.
Executive Summary
It’s time for change. Vet owners must lift their game and make workplaces safe for their staff or risk losing business because of staff shortages.

Just under 600 vet, vet owner, vet nurses and other staff responded. 60% of the respondents were under 35 and 92% were female. Is this another demographic shift to be considered? There is a generational gap in experiences of poor mental health between under 35 and post 35.We believe we had a better representation o f the younger people in this industry.

The survey confirms many of the findings of the recent AVA Mental health report. Client abuse and expectation (88% of the respondents) is the number one contributor to poor mental health. In addition, though there are structural problems in the industry that need to be addressed. Other key issues include:
  1. Shortage of vet staff and chronic understaffing of practices leading to fatigue. (58%)
  2. Financial pressures result in emotional abuse of staff. (52%)
  3. Poor workplace culture and leadership results in lack of respect and trust amongst staff. (47%) Bullying was reported by 13% of respondents.
  4. Poor working conditions and compensation (43%)
  5. Leadership is regarded as needing improvement. (26%)
The family is calling for some practical steps to address the above issues:
  1. A public education campaign called ‘Please be kind to vets and their staff’. One practical example is where clients are required to take responsibility for their behaviour and attitude to vet staff, just like you do when checking in for a flight. You have to agree that you are not carrying dangerous articles on the flight. In this case, the agreement specifies what the vet will do and what the client will do and any abuse will not be tolerated. We want to roll this out to every vet clinic in Australia.
  2. There is a national set of guidelines for safe workplaces for mental health specifically for vet practices. Some practices already do well in relation to mental health and workplace safety. We want to encourage all practices to review and change their business model to address the key stressors. We seek a national online register of safe/best practice vet workplaces so that graduates and vet staff can select practices that are workplace friendly.
  3. The federal and state governments to look at solving the chronic shortage of vets and vet staff including addressing the poor retention of staff. Eg better regulated working conditions, safe workplace compliance.
  4. The federal and state government to address the lack of representation of individuals in the vet profession in remuneration and working conditions.
  5. Financial pressures contribute to many instances of abuse and lack of trust/respect by clients. The industry needs to be more transparent about costs. There need to be a consistent price schedule for services and setting expectations that vet services are not subsidised by Medicare and so are more expensive. People need to understand that buying a pet is not the only financial cost to having a pet. We would like an investigation to see if there is a business case for a Medicare for pets on pet registration
  6. That undergraduate vet courses include sections on resilience, leadership, business management, conflict resolution and people skills in addition to the technical skills developed. These courses could be run as post graduate courses as well.
The family would like to acknowledge all of those who have helped provide the data and those helping with the web app.