A cross-sectional study of mental health and well-being and their associations in the UK veterinary profession
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- Bartram, D.J., Yadegarfar, G. & Baldwin, D.S. Soc Psychiat Epidemiol (2009) 44: 1075. doi:10.1007/s00127-009-0030-8
Veterinary surgeons are at elevated risk of suicide, with a proportional mortality ratio around four times that of the general population and approximately twice that of other healthcare professions. There has been much speculation regarding possible mechanisms underlying increased suicide risk in the profession but little empirical research. We aimed to assess the contribution of mental health and well-being to the elevated risk, through a postal questionnaire survey of a large stratified random sample of veterinary surgeons practising within the UK.
A questionnaire was mailed twice to 3,200 veterinary surgeons. Anxiety and depressive symptoms, alcohol consumption, suicidal ideation, positive mental well-being, perceptions of psychosocial work characteristics, and work–home interaction were assessed using valid and reliable existing instruments and a series of bespoke questions previously developed through informal focus groups.
Evaluable questionnaires were returned by 1,796 participants, a response rate of 56.1%. The demographic and occupational profile of respondents was representative of the UK veterinary profession. The prevalence of ‘caseness’ (i.e. HADS subscale score ≥8) for anxiety, depression, and co-morbid anxiety and depression was 26.3, 5.8 and 4.5%. 5.4% of respondents were non-drinkers, 32.0% low-risk drinkers, and 62.6% ‘at-risk’ drinkers (i.e. AUDIT-C score ≥4 for women, ≥5 for men). The 12-month prevalence of suicidal thoughts was 21.3%.
Compared to the general population, the sample reported high levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms; higher 12-month prevalence of suicidal thoughts; less favourable psychosocial work characteristics, especially in regard to demands and managerial support; lower levels of positive mental well-being; and higher levels of negative work–home interaction. The levels of psychological distress reported suggest ready access to and knowledge of lethal means is probably not operating in isolation to increase suicide risk within the profession.