The Veterinary Support Working Party (VSWP), chaired by Dr Wendy Harrison, met recently to discuss research projects and other initiatives aimed at supporting the mental health of the profession.
The working party was formed by the Veterinary Benevolent Fund (VBF) in 2005 following preliminary meetings of the main veterinary organisations held at the RCVS in response to the high suicide rate in the profession. It was asked to examine ways to improve support services for everyone working within the veterinary profession.
The group includes representatives from a range of organisations with an interest in the welfare of veterinary surgeons.
Details of research projects were given by the veterinary surgeons responsible for them. Dr Richard Mellanby of the University of Edinburgh outlined a project currently under way in association with Oxford University to complete a systematic review of the literature concerning mental health and suicide in the profession.
Other planned work includes an investigation of the stresses experienced by recent graduates using a device to record stresses in real time, and three questionnaire-based studies examining: mental health and well-being of vets; stresses of recent graduates and their use of support; and job satisfaction in the profession.
Rosie Allister, also from the University of Edinburgh, described her recently completed Masters project investigating the mental health and well-being of veterinary students and the further development of this work as a PhD project.
David Bartram of the University of Southampton outlined the results of his cross-sectional study of mental health and well-being in the profession. Compared to the general population, the sample reported higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms; higher 12- month prevalence of suicidal thoughts; less favourable psychosocial working conditions; lower levels of positive mental well-being; higher levels of negative work-home interaction; and similar levels of alcohol consumption.
He had recently obtained ethics approval to conduct telephone interviews with a number of the survey participants to further explore their experience of suicidal thoughts and help-seeking behaviours.
Although each of the researchers commented on the difficulties in obtaining financial support, they gratefully acknowledged the sources of funding for their studies, mainly veterinary professional organisations including the BSAVA, SPVS, RCVS, BVA and VBF.
Existing support initiatives provided by the VBF, BVA and SPVS were reviewed and proposals for their further development and improvement discussed. The importance of effective collaboration between all professional bodies to support the mental well-being of the profession was highlighted, and the Lancaster Final Year Student Seminar and BVA regional support meetings for recent graduates were cited as examples of good practice. The need for an evidence base for the introduction of new initiatives and monitoring of the effectiveness of existing support mechanisms was also seen as critical.
Increasing awareness and accessibility to current support mechanisms had started to be addressed with the launch in October 2007 of the Vetlife website (www.vetlife.org.uk), a single portal for accessing available support and advice, and needed to be further built upon.
Other key themes discussed included how best to communicate research findings to the profession and how practices might be encouraged to improve working conditions.
Dr Wendy Harrison, chairman of the VSWP, commented, “The number of research projects and initiatives to investigate and support the well-being of the veterinary profession is hugely encouraging.
“The challenge is now to maintain the momentum to ensure the implementation of effective interventions.”