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Stigma, coping, stress and distress in the veterinary profession – the importance of evidence-based discourse
  1. Jacqueline M. Cardwell and
  2. Elisa G. Lewis
  1. Veterinary Epidemiology, Economics and Public Health, Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, UK
  2. School of Applied Sciences, London South Bank University, London, UK
  1. email: jcardwell{at}

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What you need to know

  • Discourse about mental health and wellbeing in the veterinary profession must be informed by critical consideration of appropriate evidence.

  • It is important that we do not normalise ill health or pathologise short-term stress. However, it should be recognised that chronic stress has negative implications for psychological and physical health.

  • Coping with stress requires both addressing the problem and managing the related emotions.

  • The coping circumplex model integrates a number of different stress management theories and may be a useful framework for conceptualising approaches to coping with stress.

Mental health stigma is a well-recognised and much discussed problem. Perceptions of public stigma – negative stereotypes and prejudice – contribute to the development of self-stigma (ie, the internalisation of these negative stereotypes), which can cause reduced self-esteem, wellbeing, health and self-efficacy, including belief in one’s own ability to cope. These, in turn, affect attitudes to help-seeking and the willingness to seek help.1,2

In a study summarised on p 709 of this issue of Vet Record, McArthur and colleagues investigated self-stigma and the strategies employed by Australian veterinary students for coping with stress.3 While stress in itself is not an illness, chronic stress has negative implications for psychological and physical health. Students in the study primarily used adaptive strategies (ie, those that help to reduce stress) rather than maladaptive strategies (ie, those that may actually increase stress) to cope with stress, with variations in approach identified …

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