The Hidden Mental Health Crisis That South African Vets Have To Face


The long hours, emotional rollercoaster and demands of the profession are pushing many South African veterinarians to the brink of burnout.

This is the mental health crisis many of our veterinarians are facing behind the scenes.

This topic was a topic of conversation at the recent 39th annual World Veterinary Congress in Cape Town, where experts urged veterinarians to prioritize their own well-being and seek help when necessary. the south african reported.

South African veterinarians face countless challenges. In addition to needing an impressive knowledge base that requires constant mental effort to keep our furry friends healthy, the emotional toll and physical demands add up to quite a heavy load to carry and can cause serious mental strain.

Quixi Sonntag, Professor at the Department of Production Animal Studies at the University of Pretoria, reveals the daily reality of our local veterinarians.

“Their work requires specialized knowledge and skills, which requires daily mental effort. Additionally, the work can be physically exhausting and even dangerous at times when dealing with aggressive animals,” he explains.

Sonntag emphasizes the cumulative effects of long work hours, the emotional burden of treating animals, and the weight of administrative tasks, all of which contribute to potential burnout.

“This relentless pressure can lead to burnout, a state of emotional exhaustion that can negatively impact the veterinarian’s ability to effectively care for animals,” he says.

The fact that no one in the veterinary profession really talks about their mental health also adds to the weight of all this, according to Sonntag, who says the work environment can become a breeding ground for silence when it comes to mental health.

“Veterinarians usually avoid admitting that they have mental problems. Stigma plays a role, along with a sense of fierce independence – the attitude of ‘I can handle this myself, I don’t need help,’” she explains.

Rudél Zowitsky, veterinary technician, adds that the general morale among many veterinarians is extremely low, which also affects their professional and personal capabilities.

“The anger and frustration arising from the moral distress of veterinarians is evident across all sectors of the profession,” he says.

To lighten the load, Sonntag advocates for open communication, destigmatizing mental health and promoting support services in the South African veterinary profession.

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However, the widespread culture of stoicism prevents South African veterans from seeking the support they need, which could lead to more serious mental health problems.

While the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA) offers a suicide prevention helpline, Zowitsky acknowledges that “many veterinarians may not even be aware of this service.”

Zowitsky acknowledges that veterinarians are struggling around the world, so waiting across the pond won’t exactly bring relief.

“These issues (veterinarian shortages and mental health issues) are affecting veterinarians around the world. Unfortunately, due to economic and political factors, many veterinarians leave South Africa, but the pressures of veterinary work persist, even as they seek greener pastures.”

She believes that the more people know about these issues, the better the situation will be, stating that “the public is still largely, if not entirely, unaware of mental health issues within veterinary science.”

Zowitsky proposes educating the public about the emotional and financial realities of veterinary care to cultivate empathy and understanding.

Promoting open communication and establishing a supportive environment are essential to addressing the mental health challenges faced by South African veterinarians, ultimately benefiting both animals and their caretakers.


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