Recognizing mental illness in veterinarians and farmers

Recognizing mental illness in farmers and veterinarians is a study at the University of Guelph.Population medicine professor Andria Jones-Bitton recently worked with the Ontario Livestock and Poultry Council to modify Mental Health First Aid Canada’s program to offer mental health first aid training to veterinarians and those in agricultural support organizations.

University of Guelph researchers have discovered that mental health problems are more prevalent in certain professions, with veterinarians and farmers or agricultural producers having higher-than-average rates of depression and anxiety.

“Most people working in the field know producers dealing with significant stresses and many know someone who died by suicide,” says Jones-Bitton. She says farmers work long hours seven days a week, and many of the issues that influence their income are out of their control, including weather, disease outbreaks and changes in government regulations.

The mental health first aid training teaches participants to recognize the signs of common mental illnesses and how to start a conversation. The training also covers identifying and responding to other mental health challenges.

A survey of Ontario veterinarians shows “alarming” preliminary results, with one-third saying they have anxiety problems and 10 per cent saying they are depressed.

Protecting against the harmful effects of stress needs to begin in veterinary school, says Bitton-Jones. Her team is working on a study to examine stress, resiliency and personality type among veterinary students.

–TERESA PITMAN