Grafton vet finds time for himself

STAYING WELL: Oliver Liyou maintains his role as a valued member of his family and professional community.
STAYING WELL: Oliver Liyou maintains his role as a valued member of his family and professional community.

VETERINARIANS can be susceptible to stress, burnout and compassion fatigue because of the determined way they strive to care for animals and people alike.

Data from the Australian Veterinary Association shows that vets throughout the world are four times more likely to die by suicide than the general population, and twice as likely as other health care providers.

Caring solely for others can have consequences and Grafton horse vet Oliver Liyou has, at times, struggled with this reality.

Long hours dealing with animals and their distraught owners, often while juggling debt and financial obligations, can see vets struggle to find time for their personal lives.

In Oliver's case there were three boys at home, all under the age of six, when his life turned upside down.

Oliver tells his story in the award-winning Glove Box Guide To Mental Health, free on Thursday, October 3, with The Land.

GUIDE: The Glove Box Guide To Mental Health is with your October 3 edition of The Land.

GUIDE: The Glove Box Guide To Mental Health is with your October 3 edition of The Land.

"As veterinarians we're determined to keep pushing ourselves," he said.

"We were high achievers at school and uni. We were taught that hard work is the secret to success.

"But with me, when things got tough and I worked harder, I could not find enough time and energy for personal relationships and I certainly didn't look after myself.

"Vets are trained to help the owner of an animal and we're really good at finding ways to get them out of pain.

"Part of our business is to end suffering and we learn to counsel owners when it comes time to put down their own animals."

Oliver's clinic appeared the model of success - he was training new recruits, educating other vets and as wide as he could open his business doors, clients kept coming in, seeking advice and care before leaving feeling comforted.

The charge to the customer was all too reasonable - at the vet's expense.

In 2004, Oliver recognised he was struggling to keep "juggling all the balls" in his life.

He sought the assistance of a psychologist who he continued to see throughout this difficult time.

Oliver continued to experience a great deal of financial and personal pressure.

Having experienced suicidal thoughts for some time, he attempted to take his own lifeAnchor in 2005.

To recover, Oliver went to live with his parents and over the next three months the slow rebuilding process took over.

Seemingly small, but important, steps were required at first, including the act of being grateful.

The mere act of expressing gratitude for things like having parents, or for drinking clean water and breathing fresh air triggered crucial endorphins that paved the way for Oliver's improving mental health.

"Exercise was also very important for me," he said. "And diet. Cutting out caffeine and reducing sugar was also critical."

Cognitive behaviour therapy teaches the mind to grab unhealthy thoughts before they run away and to ask them for proof of being the real facts.

"You need to have an honest conversation with yourself," he said.

"You need to step outside your brain and look at those thought patterns and be the devil's advocate - ask for proof that those ideas are true."

Support from others is essential, be it family, friends, colleagues or health professionals.

"Mental health challenges will always be there in the back of my mind, but through staying aware of it, remembering to stop and smell the roses at times (gratitude and good sleep), staying physically active and eating well (exercise and diet), and maintaining my role as a valued member of my family and professional communities (tribe), I have been able to keep the black dog at bay for the 13 years since that horrible day in 2005," Oliver said.

"I have found my real life purpose to be in being the best partner and dad I can be, along with helping owners to help their horses, plus helping other vets to avoid treading the path I did."

Lifeline 13-11-14. BeyondBlue 1300 22 4636.

  • The Land's Glove Box Guide To Mental Health is now in its eight edition and has been recognised internationally as a leading resource for wellbeing information and personal stories of lived experiences.
This story Veterinarian finds time to heal himself first appeared on The Land.