A guest blog by Alison Speakman, BSAVA Senior Vice President

Alison first joined BSAVA as a new graduate and has been a member ever since, joining her local regional committee in 1995 followed by Education committee and Chair, Congress committee, Honorary Secretary and PetSavers committee. Alison is a great advocate for mental health and during her presidency with the BSAVA, spearheaded the creation of the wellbeing zone at BSAVA Congress. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her family, as well as exercising, reading, and gardening.

It’s estimated that approximately 1 in 4 adults are diagnosed with a mental health disorder in the UK, with the most common disorders being anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. Evidence has shown that compared to the general population, unfortunately members of the veterinary profession have higher levels of these disorders.

Within the veterinary profession, whatever our role may be, it carries a high level of both physical and emotional pressure, whilst also being very rewarding. As individuals with different genetic backgrounds and constitutions, our ability to cope, and knowing how to cope with these pressures varies, and can inevitably affect our mental health.

We all sit on a ‘continuum’ when it comes to our mental health, and we can move in either direction along it, depending on life’s challenges. It’s important to be able to recognise where you are on this spectrum at any time, and to know the direction that you are travelling on the continuum. As one of many within the veterinary profession diagnosed with ‘general anxiety disorder’, I’ve travelled up and down this continuum many times, fluctuating from thriving, embarrassment, silently struggling, self-stigma, and on a couple of occasions ‘crisis’, necessitating immediate intervention. I should also say it has taken 25 years before I’ve felt comfortable enough to admit this. The veterinary profession is indebted to have the charity Vetlife who can provide vital advice and support.

Why do we get stressed and anxious?

When you’re under pressure, short episodes of anxiety and stress are often a ‘natural’ response. In general, they are self-limiting, and it’s not possible or realistic to live without them. However, when that anxiety and stress becomes persistent, frequent, more severe, affects our ability to work or our relationships, or causes unrealistic or excessive fear, this type of stress is unhealthy. At this point, it’s important that appropriate intervention and professional help is obtained, the same as you would for physical illness.

Important signs to recognise include:

  • “Butterflies” in stomach, palpitations
  • Altered concentration, mind racing, blank or intrusive thoughts
  • Unable to relax
  • Unable to sleep well, exhaustion
  • Worrying excessively most days and unable to focus as a result
  • Irritable, impatient
  • Feeling wound-up/on-edge

So why are veterinary professionals more susceptible?

The question that I am really asking is “As veterinary professionals, why does our stress bucket get full and overflow?”. There are many work and external factors that can add stress into our daily lives. Some people are seemingly able to cope with large amounts of stress, whilst others don’t manage as easily. When your ‘bucket’ is full of stress, it overflows which results in compromised mental health.

Vets commonly attribute their psychological distress to problems at work, including work intensity (volume and pace), working hours and their associated effects on your personal life, feeling undervalued as well as performance anxiety, particularly so if you’re newly qualified1.

How can we help ourselves?

It is imperative that we take preventative and early interventional approaches to make sure that we are looking after our mental health and to prevent overwhelming stress. If you can, identify your triggers, whether that may be challenging clients, a challenging workplace or workplace intensity. Recognising and addressing these triggers can help.

Where there are issues with work factors, if you can and feel able to, discuss these with your employers/managers to find ways to reasonably adjust your workload and ask for additional support. If you have one, you can discuss with your workplace Mental Health First Aider, they are trained to help you. If these aren’t working out for you, consider whether remaining in your current role is appropriate for your mental health.

Looking after your mental health

It’s important to also recognise that whilst we can identify our triggers, we have to accept that there are some things that cannot be changed. Whilst that isn’t easy, accepting this can help us focus our time and energy more productively.

It is so common for those in professional roles to feel embarrassed or have a self-stigma about admitting that we are struggling with our mental health. Please make sure that you talk whether it’s to family, friends, colleagues, or your GP. There are many people who can listen and support you.

If you feel that you are ever struggling or in a crisis, it’s important to seek immediate professional help from your GP or your local hospital. If you can’t access direct medical assistance or feel that you’re unable to, please reach out and contact Vetlife or the Samaritans (Call 116123). Please don’t suffer in silence.


  1. https://www.vetlife.org.uk/mental-health/depression/
  2. https://www.samaritans.org/

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