When we reflect on the role of a leader, we often think of the driving force behind a team, or the individual who keeps operations running smoothly, all while ensuring that their team is both happy and healthy. It’s true, when individual members of the team experience difficulties, it is commonly the leader who is best placed to provide practical support, and ensure that the individual feels well looked after at work.

However, leaders (though incredible!) are not superhuman, and often face struggles of their own that could slip below the radar without the presence of a caring and supportive environment.

If you hold a leadership position within a veterinary team, how can you care for your own mental health, while still providing support to your team?

Understanding the stress of veterinary leadership

Even the most put-together of leaders may struggle sometimes with their own physical or mental health. According to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, 90% of vets said that they found their job stressful[1]. On top of the day-to-day responsibilities of being a vet, being a leader in the veterinary world can bring its own unique set of challenges. Managing a team, being responsible for making decisions in high pressure situations, and dealing with the day-to-day emotional trials of patient care can result in heightened levels of stress, isolation, and burnout.

Maternal mental health and PND in veterinary leaders

Both antenatal depression (depression during pregnancy) and postnatal depression (depression after childbirth) are very common in women. In fact, the NHS states that more than one in ten women experience one, or both, of the two[2].

Look out for the symptoms.

Symptoms of antenatal depression and PND may include (but are not limited to)…

  • A persistent low mood
  • Lack of energy and sleepless nights/tiredness during the day
  • Withdrawing from contact
  • Difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions

Pregnancy or post-partum related depression is a challenging time for any woman. However, for veterinary leaders, it can often bring a particular struggle. Balancing the need to rest and recover with taking charge of a team, juggling myriads of tasks, and living everyday life can be overwhelming. If you work within a veterinary team where a leader may be experiencing similar symptoms, be particularly mindful of ways you could offer support.

How can veterinary leaders care for their mental health?

If you are a veterinary leader, how can you care for your mental health, whilst keeping a focus on the wellbeing of your team? There are a number of resources readily available for veterinary leaders.

Dr Hannah Perrin, Course Director at the Veterinary Management Group (VMG) discusses the topic of mental health within leadership roles: “We’re all aware of the heart breaking statistics on mental health in the veterinary sector. It’s also clear that leadership – in whatever form – can be challenging and stressful.”

She continues: “One of the most positive things you can do to help reduce work stress is to build a supportive professional network. Try this exercise: Who’s in your SPACE?

Support.  The person offering support is unfailingly positive and encouraging of you, and will always support your choices. 

Promote.  The person who promotes you will talk to others about potential opportunities for you and help ensure that your achievements are recognised. 

Advise.  Your Advisor is someone knowledgeable in your field who can provide guidance based on their own expertise and experience. 

Challenge.  The person providing challenge causes you to reconsider your ideas and rethink your approach to work. 

Empower.  The person who empowers you will provide opportunities for you, signpost new developments, and encourage you as your career progresses.

“Consider who you have in your SPACE.  Are they any gaps? Who could fill them?  Seek out those who will Support, Promote, Advise, Challenge and Empower you – and have a conversation.”

“One of the most positive things you can do to help reduce work stress is to build a supportive professional network.”

Dr Hannah Perrin

The VMG offers a course dedicated to supporting leaders in the veterinary workplace with their own mental health. Hannah comments: “If you would like to learn more about leadership and mental health, the VMG’s Mental Health in the Veterinary Workplace course is specifically created for veterinary leaders and managers.  We focus on the leadership role in supporting good mental health and positive wellbeing – both for themselves and the whole veterinary team.  We discuss how a leader’s approach to mental health can impact an organisation, and explore how those in leadership roles can advocate for good practice in the veterinary sector – everything from discrimination and the language we use to talk about mental health, to the reasonable adjustments we can put in place to support ourselves and our colleagues, to toolkits for identifying, reducing, and managing stress in the workplace.” 

“Thanks to financial support from the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative, we are currently offering the Mental Health in the Veterinary Workplace course free of charge to all veterinary leaders and managers.  It comprises prep work, two workshops, a fantastic online learning platform and guided coursework exercises to help you apply your new learning to your particular workplace.  It counts as 25 hours’ CPD and also meets the Practice Standards requirements for leadership training in mental health.  The next cohort starts in September, and you can register here: http://www.vetmg.com/cvlm.”

Furthermore, Pete Orpin, Chair of the Society of Practicing Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) board, shares some practical tips for maintaining strong mental health as a leader. He comments: “Start with humility! Make sure your team appreciate that you are doing your very best for them. But, while you won’t always get it right, you will learn from any challenges and always be there for them. Take the pressure off that self-imposed superman/woman role you think you have!”

“Another top tip is to focus on the team success. Leaders are part of the rowing team – nudging the tiller and also rowing too. Real sustainable success comes from delegating and empowering the team to do more. Letting go is so, so important, rather than trying to control everything. The more  self-reliant your team become, the less pressure falls on your shoulders. Mental wellbeing deterioration comes from taking on too much and blaming yourself when things don’t go according to plan.  Nobody gets out of bed to do a bad job but sometimes stuff happens!” 

“The final top tip is to focus on the big picture. Celebrate successes. Identify those incremental gains and reflect on how others have developed and improved. Deriving satisfaction from the growth of others is a skill that has to be learned.”

“Mental wellbeing deterioration comes from taking on too much and blaming yourself when things don’t go according to plan.  Nobody gets out of bed to do a bad job but sometimes stuff happens.”

Pete Orpin

Pete also shares some of the ways that SPVS works to help leaders to look after their mental wellbeing. He comments: “Steph Writer Davies delivered a series of podcasts focusing on these elements and should be compulsory listening for anyone working in practice. The podcast is available to SPVS members through the following link: https://spvs.org.uk/podcasts/.”

“Also the SPVS GP mastery is coming soon. The course will cover a number of aspects of working in veterinary practice, such as fostering a positive team environment and effectively leading a small team. Keep your eyes peeled for more information over on the SPVS website.”

In summary, there are a number of tools and techniques available to leaders, to help them support their own mental health. Organisations such as the VMG, SPVS and others alike provide a number of offerings for leaders to explore that can provide practical tips when it comes to coping with struggles.

What can veterinary team members do to help?

If you are a member of a veterinary team, what are some steps that you could take to support leaders when their wellbeing is challenged?

Be reliable

Having a reliable team on hand to assist makes for a great support system at work when leaders are struggling. Within a veterinary team, sticking to deadlines, maintaining peace within the team, keeping up with admin and avoiding unnecessary interruptions that can put more on your leader’s plate can help to alleviate additional stress.

Furthermore, mental health and wellbeing challenges may require the introduction of hybrid working or leave. Being part of a reliable and supportive team that is willing to be flexible  during this time can greatly reduce feeling of stress or guilt on leaders.

Take initiative

When things at work become stressful, showing initiative can help to reduce the strain on a team leader, reducing feelings of isolation. Proactively completing tasks, keeping accurate records of what needs to be done and keeping up communication can all help to reduce the risk of a crisis arising, and ease the mind of your leader.

Ask your leader how they are

As a member of the team, it may at times be challenging to discuss personal topics with your leader. However, these conversations should not be avoided, and do not need to be uncomfortable. While it may not be appropriate to directly ask an individual about their personal struggles, a simple “How are you?” invites a colleague to share as much, or as little, as they wish – which could give you an insight into how much support you can offer.   

Overall, showing diligent support within the veterinary team by taking initiative and completing tasks independently where possible can help to reduce the stress for everyone. Additionally, keeping up regular contact within the team can help to boost overall morale and team cohesion, while reducing feelings on loneliness and isolation in veterinary leaders.


[1] https://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-views/publications/the-2019-survey-of-the-veterinary-profession/ (accessed 27/7/23)

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-natal-depression/overview/ (accessed 28/7/23)

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