Monday, July 1, 2019

Mental wellbeing for veterinarians - two conferences and a fundraising initiative

When I finished reading Nadine Hamilton's fantastic book, Hero used it as a pillow.

Have you noticed all the talk about well-being and veterinary professionals lately? There has been an explosion of publications about exodus from the profession, but equally there have been new resources like psychologist Nadine Hamilton’s book Coping with Stress and Burnout as aVeterinarian

Animal welfare, human well-being and environmental sustainability are inextricably linked. This idea is the foundation of the “OneWelfare” concept but also one that I have come to subscribe to because of my experiences as a veterinarian.

The good news is that finally society, and our profession, are coming to understand that you can’t do good animal husbandry if the humans looking after those animals aren’t looked after. You can’t look after humans and animals if the environment that supports all life is being harmed.

In October this year the Centre for Veterinary Education is hosting a two-day conference on One Welfare at the University of Sydney.

This is the perfect opportunity to meet solutions focused colleagues who want to tackle some of the bigger picture issues that will impact us all – and by us I mean humans, other animals and the environment.

For more info and to register, click here:

On Wednesday October 16 there is a one-day symposium on Mental Wellbeing for Veterinary Teams. This is a not for profit event facilitated by funds-raised by the Vet Cookbook. Registration is very cheap and covers catering.

Speakers include those from within but also many from outside of our profession. This day promises an extraordinary opportunity to collaborate, network and gain a sense of perspective about the current “mental health crisis”.

Please come along and contribute your ideas and energy.

I am of the firm belief that its one thing to participate in dialogue online about these issues, but meaningful action tends to come from face-to-face meetings where people have a chance to learn about each other. This is a rare chance to get a lot of members of our profession - vets, nurses, practice managers, groomers, kennelhands, stablehands, animal carers and students - into one space. That's how the magic happens.

Its great to see companies like Zoetis coming on board. Last week they announced a partnership with Beyond Blue in which they hope to raise up to $100,000 to support mental health in Australia. These kind of initiatives are important and should be encouraged.

Hopefully, with the encouragement of our profession, companies like this will put funds behind initiatives to help improve our sustainability - both in terms of human and animal welfare but also the environment. 

According to a company statement (slightly edited here for length):
“Whilst vets can be seen as the heroes of our community for treating and saving the lives of some of our most treasured family members, it can often be at significant cost to their mental health...
Day in day out, vets undergo a great deal of stress, not only caring for sick animals, but compassionately and knowledgeably working with the owners to provide the best care and treatment. Entering the profession because of their love for animals, they are often not prepared for the emotional pressures of the job. Whether it’s counselling a family through the decision process to euthanize, or having to carry out the procedure on a pet they have been treating regularly, vets suffer with grief every day. “We are very passionate about improving mental health and are proud to partner with Beyond Blue to tackle these very real issues affecting our vets, who suffer as a result of supporting our community,” says Lance Williams, Zoetis Vice President, Australia and New Zealand.
Beyond Blue Lead Clinical Adviser Dr Grant Blashki explains, “From my experience as a GP, people working in high pressure environments like veterinary services tend to experience more stress than people working in some other areas. “Things like long hours, financial worries and the emotional aspects of the job can start to pile up and impact their mental health. People working in such a caring profession often feel like they can’t justify time to look after their own mental and emotional wellbeing, but it’s incredibly important that they do.”
Natasha Wilks, a veterinarian for 20 years and Beyond Blue volunteer says, There are so many things which weigh on our minds; the long hours, financial struggles, and the difficult situations we are placed in.
 “During my final and seventh year of study, I was feeling exhausted and burnt out, I had spent the last seven years working every weekend and weeknight. It all came to a head when I had a rotation where we lived at the veterinary hospital to monitor all the patients overnight. I was very teary and didn’t want to do it. This was my turning point to seeking help.
 “For me to reach out and admit that I wasn’t coping was a massive step. I’d been brought up to soldier on and to deal with things myself. I realised I couldn’t keep doing it anymore. I was exhausted, depressed and I needed help.” Natasha has experienced many ups and downs throughout her veterinary career in different working environments adding, “Nowadays I recognise when I’m becoming exhausted and I’ve learned to slow down.”
 “For me, the signs are when I become more negative, frustrated and judgmental, less willing to spend time with friends and I let things get to me.”
“My identity isn’t tied to my veterinary career anymore, so when I have challenges in practice I try not to take it personally and focus on the things I can control.”
Part of taking control for Natasha has been about finding what she loves and making time to enjoy them.  “Exercise is really important in helping me stay well. I don’t pound the pavement, but I walk with our old retriever who still has a lot of energy. I walk and smell the air, notice all the new flowers and listen to the birds,” she said. 
Zoetis is committed to helping offer greater support to our vets and will be raising $100,000 from sales of their companion animal products, as well as livestock products, from 15 July to 31 October, with funds being used by the Beyond Blue Support Service, to provide advice and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
 “The Support Service, entirely funded by generous donations, is a free, life-changing and sometimes life-saving service, there for people day and night – via phone, web chat or email – whenever they need someone to talk to,” said Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman.
 The Beyond Blue Support Service costs on average $48 per contact with counsellors available by phone, webchat or email, meaning Zoetis’s kind donation will help over 2,000 people get the support they need through the service. For more information on how you can help Zoetis to raise vital funds and support mental health through its partnership with Beyond Blue please visit Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the Beyond Blue Support Service – 1300 22 4636 – or via for online chat (3pm-12am ADST) or email (within 24 hours).”