A NEW support structure for depressed and suicidal vets was launched at the British Veterinary Association (BVA) Congress in Belfast last month.
The Veterinary Benevolent Fund (VBF), which provides help and support for vets in need, unveiled its new support website, vetlife.org.uk,
Designed to help veterinarians access emotional and professional support, the website is part of a series of initiatives aimed at improving the mental well being of the veterinary profession.
The event was marked by a Congress lecture from Dr Raj Persaud, Consultant Psychiatrist at The Maudsley Hospital in South London, Gresham Professor for Public Understanding of Psychiatry, an accomplished broadcaster and the author of several successful books, including The Motivated Mind.
Vetlife.org is designed to make it easy for veterinary surgeons, nurses and students to find information about the different types of professional and emotional support available. This includes support provided by established veterinary care organisations such as Vet Helpline and the Veterinary Surgeons’ Health Support Programme and trusted sources outside the profession such as Mind, the leading mental health charity, and the Samaritans.
The website was conceived after the Veterinary Benevolent Fund (VBF) asked Dr Wendy Harrison to chair a Veterinary Support working party, formed from representatives of all the main veterinary organisations and the Samaritans, to look at what could be done to improve support to the profession. The impetus for the formation of the working party was the publication, in The Veterinary Record in October 2005 of research by Richard Mellanby that indicated that the suicide rate for the veterinary profession was four times higher than that of the general population and twice that of doctors and dentists.
Vetlife.org is the first, and perhaps most visible, of a series of initiatives recommended by the working party. Other initiatives, which will also come under the brand name Vetlife, will include a series of mental health surveys to be carried out under the guidance of Southampton and Herriot Watt Universities and a campaign to improve student awareness of what support is available to them after they graduate.
Dr Wendy Harrison explained the thinking behind the concept of the website: ‘We found that while many organisations were providing excellent support mechanisms for the veterinary profession people often didn’t know how or where to go in order to access that help. We are fully aware that when people are under stress then that’s not the time they are thinking most clearly or are able to start doing the research that’s needed. We felt that what would be most helpful was to provide a portal that brought together information on all these support mechanisms in one place.
The most appropriate way to do that was to develop a website, namely, Vetlife.’
The website has been funded by the VBF and will be run from their office in London, initially for a period of three years. It is hoped that it will grow and develop in response to feedback from the profession.
Dr Harrison added: ‘Everyone at some stage in their career will go through difficult times, but support is available and now Vetlife has gone live, it will be easy to find and access’.
* The Veterinary Benevolent Fund provides financial and other assistance to deserving veterinary surgeons in need who are on the RCVS registers and to their deserving relatives or dependents.
Veterinary surgeons face the same problems as all other members of society such as financial difficulties, ill health, addiction etc, which may affect their professional performance. In addition, there are specific stresses associated with their work, such as professional isolation and a culture in which it is difficult to admit to having a problem, disillusionment with practice after a long academic struggle, euthanasia of a client’s loved pet etc.
Recent work has shown that the veterinary profession has the highest proportional mortality rate from suicide of any occupational group, and it has been suggested that this is assoc-iated with access to the relevant drugs. Veterinary surgeons are also often reluctant to acknowledge or discuss their problems with colleagues in case they are reported to the profession’s regulatory body the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. This is where the VBF may be able to help.
The VBF is a charitable organisation with a network of volunteers drawn predominantly from the veterinary profession.
The Fund assists beneficiaries by the provision of regular grants or one-off payments and Christmas gifts. In addition, the Fund owns four bungalows in Dorset providing accommodation for deserving veterinary surgeons, their widows or dependents.
The VSHSP has helped more than 230 veterinary surgeons overcome their addiction problems and the VHL has taken calls from over 1,200 people since it was set up.