I recently read an article that presents some very interesting and somewhat disturbing data. Apparently veterinary students are more prone to depression than human medical students and the general profession. Here are some key quotes from that article (linked above).
During the first year of veterinary school, 32 percent of the veterinary medicine students surveyed showed symptoms of depression, compared to 23 percent of human medicine students who showed symptoms above the clinical cutoff, as evidenced by other studies.
The researchers also discovered that veterinary students experience higher depression rates as early as the first semester of their first year of study. Their depression rates appear to increase even more during the second and third year of school. During the fourth year, depression rates drop down to first-year levels.
Hafen said several factors might contribute to the higher rate of depression in veterinary medicine students. Veterinarians deal with stressors that human medicine doctors do not have to experience, such as frequently discussing euthanasia with clients. Although both programs of study are intense, veterinarians must understand a variety of animal species rather than focusing on the human body. Struggles with balancing work, school and life could also lead to higher depression rates.
Honestly, I can't see that these findings surprise me. Veterinary school is incredibly hard and stressful, and I don't think people realize that vet students have to learn more than human medical students do. I certainly remember how stressed I was and how much time I spent studying and preparing.
Unfortunately I think that it gets worse in many ways from school. Practicing vets no longer have to worry about intense studies, but they do have more pressure on them regarding the health and well-being of their patients. In vet school you always have a safety-net of interns, residents, and professors that can make the final decision in cases, but when you're practicing it's all up to you. Add on stresses related to paying bills, student loans, starting families (if that hasn't been done in school), being expected to financially produce, and often running a business. It's actually more of a wonder that we don't see most vets succumbing to depression.
Although the mental health of human medicine students has been extensively studied, the same extent of study has not been performed with veterinary medicine students. Additionally, most veterinary research related to depression involves pet owners, not veterinarians or students.
I agree that such studies need to look at the veterinary profession as much as it does the human medical profession, I think it needs to reach beyond the students and include active practitioners. We may find that depression in veterinary medicine is more wide-spread than is thought. At the same time, there may be a mitigating factor in the fact that we work with animals, which have been shown to lower stress. But I'm sure the stress-lowering affect of pets doesn't include ones trying to bite you!