Since the death of their daughter nearly two years ago, Sophie Putland's family has worked tirelessly to advocate for change in the veterinary industry.
- Sophie's Legacy is a not-for-profit set up by the Putland family in honour of their daughter
- Sophie Putland was a veterinarian who died in 2021
- The family has started a campaign urging people not to abuse veterinarians and staff
The not-for-profit they founded, Sophie's Legacy, surveyed 600 veterinarians, finding mental illness was an issue for more than two-thirds who responded.
Sophie's father, Garry Putland, said the survey showed that negative client interactions, including abuse, contributed to veterinarians' poor mental health.
As a result, the family has launched a national education campaign urging people to be kind to vet staff, with posters to be displayed in clinics around the country.
"Dr Sophie Putland, our beautiful daughter, was the vet you wanted at your side when your pet was ill," Mr Putland said.
"She loved being a vet. She loved complex medicines and was highly regarded in the vet industry."
Mr Putland said his "intelligent, compassionate" daughter spent much of her time in emergency vet hospitals, undertaking complex work, but also experienced the "negative side of the industry".
"Sophie experienced many of the things we heard back in the survey, things like long hours, having to cover for a shortage of vets," he said.
Mr Putland said his daughter also experienced client interactions which "really did trouble her".
Adelaide's Small Animal Specialist Hospital co-founder, Dr Andrew Dunn, said overseas data showed abuse towards vets was "on the rise".
He said being a vet was a "highly rewarding job", but it was also tough.
"There are some confronting situations vets find themselves in and that can accumulate and be wearing," he said.
Dr Dunn had worked with Sophie in the past and described her as "a good friend".
"She was a bit of a scallywag, she was a very passionate Adelaide Crows supporter, highly energetic, very intelligent and very compassionate vet," he said.
Veterinarian Lauren Bielby, the face of the education campaign, said while she loved being a vet, the industry was facing a "big mental health crisis at the moment".
The 25-year-old encouraged clients to pause and think before interacting with vet staff.
"I understand how stressful it is when your pet is unwell and I understand that those emotions can bubble to the surface, but just taking that moment ... and realising at the end of the day, we're really trying to help," she said.
Director of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) Dr Warwick Vale, said there were many factors that were contributing to poor mental health in veterinarians.
"They revolve around lots of different risks that veterinarians are facing in their work places, about long hours, about poor remuneration, stress, the sort of workload that they're under, we have a workforce shortage at the moment, which is creating unbelievable pressure for vets at the coalface delivering veterinarian services," he said.
"Negative feedback and negative interactions with clients when they bring patients into our hospitals is [also] a very real factor contributing to poor mental health.
"But conversely we are also seeing the great relationships that we can get and the great experience from client interactions that are also a protective factor."
Dr Vale said the AVA provided mental health support and resources to veterinarians through a program it launched last year called Thrive.
He said the AVA was also appealing to the government for additional support, particularly incentives that would encourage veterinarians to set up practices in regional areas.
"We don't get any government support and we get very little independent community support, we have to run businesses to provide a level of healthcare," he said.
The South Australian government is introducing a new veterinary services bill which aims to bring more workers into the profession and retain them by making it easier to register in the state and return to work from leave.
Primary Industries Minister Claire Scriven told ABC Radio Adelaide the government was also looking into providing the "We're Only Human" campaign some funding and include veterinarians under laws that protects other emergency workers from abuse.
"We also appreciate that people are very emotional, particularly when it's their pets who are suffering," she said.
"So I guess it is understandable, but it's certainly not acceptable ever to be abusing anyone, but vets in particular."
Opposition leader for the legislative council Nicola Centofanti was a vet for 15 years and said it is a high-pressure working environment.
She is calling on the government to collate more data around the number of suicides among veterinarians in the state.
"I think it's important we have this data, because how do we know if things are improving or deteriorating if we're not reporting this?" she said.
Mr and Mrs Putland said they were proud of their family's achievements so far – and they believe Sophie would be, too.
"I think Sophie would be up there at the moment saying, 'Good on you guys'," Mr Putland said.