A difficult subject but one to talk about... - Veterinary Practice
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A difficult subject but one to talk about…

Professor BILL REILLY president of the BVA, reviews the help available to the profession

MENTAL illness and suicide are
difficult subjects to talk about in any
walk of life, but it’s no secret that
the veterinary profession
is suffering more than
The likelihood
is that you will know
someone in the
profession who has
taken his or her own
life or who has
depression. It is not
something that we
can or should ignore.

But what can we
do? As individuals we
have a duty to support
our colleagues in the
workplace and outside;
to be aware of those
who may be having
problems and point
them in the direction of help. As a
profession, the most useful response is
to support efforts to find out about the
problem and to find practical ways to
make a difference to vets who are
struggling with the day-to-day stresses
of their jobs.

In January the RCVS announced
that its regular surveys of the
profession (veterinary surgeons and nurses) will include questions on mental
health and well-being. This is a positive
step and one which I hope colleagues will take seriously.

It can be difficult to admit when you’ve
had problems, in your
job or in your
personal life, but the
more information we
can gather about
mental health in the
profession, the more
we can do to help
those in crisis.

This work will add
to a number of
studies and surveys
already under way. At
last year’s BVA
congress in Cardiff, David Bartram, Rosie
Allister and Rachel Dean presented stark evidence of the higher levels of
anxiety and depression amongst vets
and vet students, a higher prevalence of
suicidal thoughts and a higher
proportion of at-risk drinkers
compared to the general population.

David Bartram also outlined a
hypothetical model to explain the
increased risk of suicide in veterinary surgeons, none of which will come as a
surprise. Work-related stress, the
transition from undergraduate study to
practice (including high levels of debt),
attitudes to euthanasia, ready access to
and knowledge of the means to
commit suicide and self-selection (i.e.
the idea that the risk factors are already
present in those who are attracted to
the career). The presentation concluded
that ready access to and knowledge of
lethal means is probably not operating
in isolation to increase suicide risk.

Work is continuing on these studies,
involving in-depth interviews with
respondents to explore the possible
factors in more detail and also the
barriers to seeking help. In the
meantime, the BVA is working on these
issues both as a member of the Vetlife
Steering Committee (encompassing the
Vet Helpline, Veterinary Benevolent
Fund and Veterinary Surgeons’ Health
Support Programme) and through its
Member Services Group (MSG).

The MSG has recently been
working on a number of initiatives to
improve working conditions for vets in
order to reduce some of the stress
related to employment issues. By
focusing on providing practical
employment resources, such as the personal development reviews and
contracts of employment, the BVA is
helping to remove some of the
difficulties faced in the workplace.

Other initiatives – such as the
regional Graduate Support Scheme, run
by the BVA and its territorial divisions,
and the Young Vet Network’s (YVN)
New Graduate Guide – target vets at the
very start of their careers, providing
advice, guidance and support at a very
difficult time.

If you’re not already involved in
your local Graduate Support Scheme,
or one doesn’t exist in your area, please
get in touch to discuss how you can
help (or be helped) on
memberservices@bva.co.uk or visit

Within the next month, BVA
members will receive a Helpline sticker,
to be displayed in their practice or
workplace, giving the phone numbers
for the Vet Helpline and the Samaritans.
It’s a small gesture but we hope it will
serve as a constant reminder that help
is out there and there is always
someone to talk to.

Remember, if you or someone you
know needs help, please call the Vet
Helpline on 07659 811 118 (local call
rates apply).

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