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From tweets to notes: 1st Internat. Symposium for Veterinary Mental Health & Suicide Prevention

Posted in Our Community @ Jun 11th 2015 - By Judy Gillespie

There was so much information and experiences discussed by all the speakers at the '1st International Symposium for Veterinary Mental Health and Suicide Prevention' in Brisbane on Friday 29th May.

I tested my tweeting skills and 'live tweeted' throughout the day and this is basically the transcript of those tweets. Some tweets contained photos of slides (<slide image>) so I've transcribed the information from those. For those of you not familiar with Twitter I only had 140 characters to use on each tweet although I have expanded some tweets in the transcript below.

Finally I should also apologise ...

  • If the information is not 100% accurate
  • If I missed essential points and information 
  • If I attributed the information to one speaker when it was from another (in this case please let me know and I'll modify the blog)

Thank you again to Dr Jodie Wilson for organising the day.  It was an excellent way to open up conversations and I look forward to seeing what comes next. 


VetShare have generously agree to sponsor The 2nd International Veterinary Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Symposium in 2016

Where are we now and what do we know?

Julanne Frater BVSc (Hons) MVS MANZCVS (SA Med) MBBS

  • More women attempt suicide but men are more successful
  •  Risk factors for suicide: mental health disorders, substance abuse, hopelessness, history of trauma, relationship issues, access to means
  • Big issues for suicide: conflict & loss
  • Suicide myths:

o   Talking about suicide will give people ideas = MYTH

o   If people are going to kill themselves they’ll do it no matter what = MYTH

  • 90% of people that commit suicide have treatable mental health issues
  • For every completed suicide there are 25 – 30 attempts

A Personal Perspective: A Practice Owner’s Story

Dr Oliver Liyou

A dozen reasons why vets shouldn’t commit suicide:

1. Because vets are very good at it

2. Devastation to the family

3. Beware of subconscious beliefs e.g. you’ll be out of pain, be happier, etc. etc.

4. Cost to your business – more financial hardship for those left behind

5. No evidence that things are better if you succeed

6. No one expects you to be perfect – the pain WILL pass

7. A vet clinic is often a common place for mentally ill people to take their pets = unreasonable clients

8. Personal relationship breakdowns are not the end of the world

9. If you survive the suicide attempt – possibly left with many more problems to deal with: future employability, family scars, your scars

10. We are so lucky to live in a first world country

11. Now so much better at recognising, accepting and understanding mental health issues

12. Lucky we live in an era where there’s less stigma about mental health

A Personal Perspective: An Employed Vet’s Story

Dr Jim Wilson

Drastic change is needed to restore equality to our profession. 

This will stop the suicides.

A Personal Perspective: A Peer Support Volunteer’s Story

Dr Jodie Wilson BVSc

  • Involved with peer support in the veterinary industry - nothing formal, mostly underground
  • 3 groups at risk: recent grads; practice owners, retired vets
  • Suicide prevention triage: talk, take, act
  • Sometimes you just have to chuck it in the f#$k it bucket & just move on!

Mental Health and Support in Australia

Dr Brian McErlean MVB MRCVS & Dr Michael Paton BVSc., MACVSc (Epidemiology), Grad Cert Animal Welfare, PhD

  • Tremendous enthusiasm in many countries to work out these mental health issues in the veterinary industry
  • We lose one vet every 12 weeks in Australia to suicide
  • 63% of vets suffer psychological distress & 25% are depressed, 4% have severe depression
  • New grads shouldn't perform euthanasia
  • Need to keep message about mental health going in perpetuity - it can never stop
  • Suicide comes from loss of tribe
  • Always include self-help info & emergency numbers when talking about mental health
  • 3 key elements to improve mental health: community, fitness & diet
  • Isolation & feeling of worthlessness are dynamite for mental health


Mental Health & Support in NZ

Dr Jenny Weston BVSc Bphil PhD MACVSc (Epidemiology)

  • Suffering stress? Take a strategic break every 90 minutes - incredibly important! Eat healthy snack, drink water, move about
  • Can social media help to replace the lost tribe?
  • <slide image> Current support available to undergrads at Massey Uni NZ:

o   “Hills VetStart @ Massey”

o   Increased emphasis on non-technical skills including emotional intelligence, resilience self-care, wellness

o   Mentor schemes staff-student and peer support

o   Vet Confessionals (a student initiative)

Mental Health and support in the UK

Dr David Bartram

  • UK Study: compared to general population veterinarians have much higher levels of anxiety & depressive symptoms
  • UK study: reasons for veterinary work related mental health issues - work intensity; long hours; feeling undervalued
  • <slide image> Conclusion..Veterinary mental health in the UK:

o   The following factors elevate suicide risk

§  Personality characteristics of individuals entering the profession confer vulnerability

§  Psychological morbidity attributable to psychosocial factors during undergraduate training and in the workplace

§  Familiarity with animal euthanasia leads to more permissive attitudes towards suicide

§  Access to and knowledge of lethal means

  • <slide image> Veterinary mental health support in the UK:

o   Awareness of career alternatives to clinical practice – Vet Record

o   Emotional resilience training in undergraduate curriculum

o   Support for undergraduates

o   Graduate Support Scheme – BVA Young Vet Network

o   National 24/7 telephone helpline – Vet Helpline

o   Veterinary Surgeon’s Health Support Programme

o   Online Support – Vetlife website

o   Financial assistance

o   Continuing professional development (CPD)

§  Workshop/ presentations – Professional Key Skills module RCVS

o   RCVS Practice Standards Scheme

o   RCVS Health Protocol

o   Mind matters Initiative

  • <slide image> Formalised undergraduate peer support

o   Application process

§  Start as second years: commitment, understanding of support and personal experience are assessed

o   30 hours training

§  Based on peer support manual developed at Oxford University (Ford 2002) and through combination of taught, experiential and discussion work

§  Skills learned include: being a good listener; helping others to feel more comfortable with social, academic and personal relationships; helping others make decisions without giving advice; and managing and communicating about sensitive issues

§  Listener learns their own limits within the listening situation, and when best to refer on the person to whom they are giving support

  • <slide image> Vet Helpline

o   24/7 telephone helpline / e-mail

o   Confidential emotional support and signposting

o   Outsourced live telephone answering service (Moneypenny)

§  Telephone or text message volunteer

§  Volunteer returns call to caller within 1 hour

o   Volunteer listeners

§  Members of the profession (vets, nurses, spouse)

§  Comprehensive, structured in-house training

o   Service to vets, vet nurses and vet students

  • UK veterinary mental support: Vet Helpline introduced email support in 2013 - very popular & growing. Reaches more in need
  • Better mental health veterinary: Stress reduced through better understanding of what constitutes reasonable expectations of performance

What are some of the factors contributing to the poor mental health of veterinarians?

Dr Peter Hatch BVSc, Dip of Professional Counselling

  • Workplace stress - an event that stresses one person may not stress another
  • Stress factors: 1 bad veterinary client interaction requires 10 good ones to overcome

Panel session: General comments & discussion from panel & attendees

  • How do we change a cultural of excessive working hours that people put on themselves?
  • Knowledge about mental health is empowering - need to work out how to get info out to ALL in the veterinary industry
  • Need to destigmatise mental health by including as many information sessions at veterinary / nurse conferences as possible
  • Challenge now is to show how introducing strategic breaks can increase veterinary practice productivity
  • Industry reps could be trained as gatekeepers - they visit practices & could keep an eye out for those needing support
  • There's nothing *wrong* with you if you have mental health issues. Remove the stigmatism & encourage communication within the veterinary industry
  • Biggest hurdle to improve mental health in veterinary industry is FUNDING of great ideas


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