Following last night’s SBS Insight special discussing suicide and mental health in the veterinary profession, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is calling for greater public awareness of the pressures faced by veterinarians.
Research shows vets are four times more likely to take their own life than the general public. Long hours, staffing shortages, financial pressures and abuse by clients have all been identified as contributing factors to the crisis.
“As a profession, we are working together to tackle this crisis, and we believe it’s also important that the public understand the pressures our vets face every day”, said Dr Warwick Vale, AVA President.
Aggression and abuse from the owners of animal patients is a disturbing issue, as highlighted by veterinarian Dr Margie Bale on the SBS Insight program, who detailed the abhorrent verbal and physical abuse she endured during her veterinary work. “We’re happy to work with the animals and that’s what we’re trained to do, but unrealistic client expectations make it incredibly challenging”, said Dr Bale in a recent newspaper interview.
The AVA are fully-committed to supporting veterinarians. “We have a free 24-hour phone counselling service, run regular wellness events around the country and offer Mental Health First Aid training, with the goal of having a staff member qualified in Mental Health First Aid in every practice in Australia”, said Dr Vale.
The AVA’s Graduate Mentoring Program pairs newly-graduating veterinarians with an experienced colleague in another practice to provide support, while a new AVA student group has been launched to help prepare upcoming vets for entering practice.
Veterinarian Dr Oliver Liyou, a suicide survivor and regular speaker at AVA wellness events said that good progress is being made. “We’re starting to build an infrastructure that helps people learn to be aware of mental health and we’re beginning to change the culture of how we work”.
Veterinary mental health advocate, Dr Brian McErlean agreed. “When we started it was all about suicide, not much fun to deal with but it had to be done. Now we’ve progressed to a more positive approach, which is recognising that good mental health is beneficial for all”.