Earlier this summer, a study performed by Kansas State University researchers found that "veterinary students [were] more depressed than the rest." In other words, veterinary students were "more likely to struggle with depression than human medical students, undergraduate students and the general population."
This was the first of its kind in veterinary medicine. After all, the mental health of human medical students has been previously studied, but no one apparently cared about veterinary students until now.
What did this study reveal?
- During the first year of vet school, 32 percent of veterinary students showed signs of depression (compared to 23 percent of med students)
- That the depression starts early — as early as the first semester of the first year
- That the depression increases even more during the second and third years
- And thankfully, by the fourth year (when we’re actually working in the clinics with pet owners and pets), our depression drops back down to first year levels.
So why are we so depressed? Likely because we have to deal with things that med students or medical doctors don’t have to: learning about more than just one species (it fills our brain too much), euthanasia counseling, limiting quality medicine due to financial constraints, and trying to balance school/work/life. Other factors quoted in the study: the stress of academic expectations (you are officially a small fish in a big pond now), homesickness, a "feeling of not belonging or not fitting in," and physical health.
Another factor that the study suggested may have a role: being female. Being that veterinary medicine (and hence, veterinary school), is > 75% female, and that studies show that women in general are 2-3 times more likely to suffer from mood disorders than men, we’re a concentrated population.
What about me? Well, I experienced this too, and almost transferred out of Cornell my first semester: the financial strain ($100,000 in debt, with loans that were unsubsidized and accumulating interest while I was in school), the Ivy league mentality, the stress of a new curriculum (a "problem-based learning approach"), being a small fish in a big pond…
The solution? This study had a few suggestions, but in general, they suggest finding an outlet. For me, it was doing things that I enjoyed: exercising, surrounding myself with a support network, watching Cornell hockey, rock climbing, and, most importantly, hiking.
And of course, draping yourself in cats and dogs on the sofa at night…
Dr. Justine Lee