8 Jul 2019

Looking after the mental health of vets

From Nights, 7:10 pm on 8 July 2019

How do vets cope when they can’t keep the animals in their care alive?

Vicki Lim is an Auckland vet and the founder of The Riptide Project; a platform for vet professionals around the world to share their stories and experiences.

 “I like to think that despite cultural, language barriers or even generational differences, I think there’s a lot of common things and experiences that vets share and can learn from one another.”

Lim photographs and interviews people, in a similar style to Humans of New York. She also runs a mentorship programme, pairing up nurses and vets over a cuppa. There’s about 220 people signed up to mentor other professionals from all over the world.

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Photo: 123rf

Getting together to chat about work is important as there’s disproportionate suicide rates among vets, Lim says.

It’s a global trend, vets work long hours so they’re more prone to burnout and acute feelings of depression, she says.

 “For anyone who’s spent time in a veterinary setting, you come across the really happy moments when someone rocks up with a new puppy and all the nurses pop up from God knows where just to give it a cuddle, but you realise there’s a lot of sadness in the job as well.”

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Photo: Supplied Vicky Lim

Since she was a child Lim wanted to be a vet, but she realised early on it wasn’t all about cuddling puppies and kittens. Vets have to deal with death and sickness much of the time.

Part of a vet’s job is putting down animals. Euthanasia is a perfectly reasonable option when the situation can’t be resolved with affordable and practical veterinary care, Lim says.

“But sometimes the struggle for vets is not just putting the animals down, because that’s hard enough in itself, but we struggle with the animals we don’t get to put down.

“You see some pretty horrific cases that border on welfare cases that we can’t really do much about because unfortunately in New Zealand, pets are still considered people’s property so if the owner does not consent to euthanasia there’s nothing you can do about it.”

If you can’t prove acute abuse or criminal abuse, you’re caught between a rock and a hard place, she says.

It’s also a financial choice for some people – putting down an animal costs money. Pet insurance really allows vets to make the best decisions without having to cut corners, she says but not everyone can afford it.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason. 
Lifeline: 0800 543 354  or text HELP to 4357
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)
Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7) 
Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.