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September 15, 2021

AVMA offers well-being, suicide prevention resources

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Updated August 25, 2021

Mental health persists as an urgent topic among veterinary professionals—in particular, what is being done to promote well-being and prevent suicide in the profession.

The AVMA has been doing a lot of work with an emphasis on well-being—both public facing and behind the scenes—on behalf of veterinary professionals around the world. In particular, leaders have been looking at prevention and intervention in mental health crises through a systems lens, said Jen Brandt, PhD, AVMA director of member well-being and diversity initiatives.

Illustration: Two humans work a human head puzzle

She spoke about some of the highlights of AVMA efforts on July 29 during the informational session of the AVMA House of Delegates’ regular annual session. They are as follows:

  • Participating in the first Mind Matters International roundtable, on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the veterinary team, with delegates from regulatory agencies and member organizations from around the world.
  • The AVMA Workplace Wellbeing Certificate Program, which has five modules: “Creating a Culture of Wellbeing,” “How to Request, Receive, and Give Feedback Effectively,” “Transforming Conflict,” “QPR Assessment,” and “Diversity and Inclusion.”
  • The AVMA Brave Space Certificate Program, which has seven modules—four on diversity, equity, and inclusion; two on interpersonal violence; and one on workplace harassment.
  • The My Veterinary Life website with resources for veterinary students, new veterinarians, and rising professionals.
  • The AVMA Wellbeing Educator Train-the-Trainer Program, funded by Merck Animal Health, which expands the pool of qualified individuals to meet the need for evidenced-based well-being programming nationally.
  • An upcoming suicide prevention roundtable in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that will focus on addressing safe communication practices related to suicide prevention.

In addition, the AVMA partnered with the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges on a webinar on suicide prevention and mental health. The webinar covered subjects such as the importance of addressing misinformation about suicide in the profession, evidence-based strategies for promoting mental health, and individual and community risk and protective factors.

The presentation, available at AVMA Axon, also reviewed toolkits that the AVMA, AAVMC, and AFSP created for veterinary workplaces and veterinary colleges to create a plan of action after a suicide.

“Why focus on post-vention resources?” Dr. Brant asked, referring to post-vention relative to prevention. “The reality is post-vention is prevention care. In the aftermath of a suicide, there is a window of time of much greater vulnerability. Good post-vention will help save the next life.”

Dr. Brandt pointed to six criteria that form the foundation for AVMA’s well-being efforts. They are as follows:

  • Multilevel approaches: From individual to organizational to community.
  • Evidence based: Integrating the best-researched evidence and clinical expertise to maximize safety and efficacy, minimize risk of harm, be solution focused, and be trauma informed.
  • Cultural sensitivity: Having the understanding that this is an ongoing process that seeks to address power imbalances and empathize with others’ experiences even if they are not shared.
  • Intersectionality: Understanding that discrimination is a social determinant of health and racism is a public health issue.
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration with other entities. This has included signing onto the National Academy of Medicine’s Action Collaborative on Clinician Wellbeing and Resilience as well as advocating with the AFSP in Washington, D.C., to pass suicide prevention policies.
  • Relationship centered.

On the last criterion, Dr. Brandt said, “Regardless of the role we play on a team or in an organization, we are all communicators, so we all play a vital role. Effective communication is a key cornerstone of healthy relationships and workplaces. It involves establishing a foundation of trust and rapport. It’s difficult for individuals and teams to be healthy without it.”

The AVMA strives to support the health and well-being of all its members in equitable and inclusive work environments. To learn more, visit the Wellbeing or Diversity and inclusion in veterinary medicine web pages.