Veterinarians across the globe are celebrating World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10 as three international veterinary associations have signed on to the Statement on Mental Health and Wellbeing, adopted last year by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, (CVMA), the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) have all been added as signatories to the Statement on Mental Health and Wellbeing. The statement prioritizes positive mental health and wellbeing for veterinarians, allied animal health care professionals and veterinary students as the first step to a healthy profession and optimal animal health, welfare and public health.
The statement says in part:
"We believe that for veterinary professionals to realize their full potential and the global veterinary profession to remain sustainable, maintaining high levels of mental health and wellbeing for all members of the veterinary team is a priority. Improving veterinary mental health and wellbeing has a positive impact on individuals, the profession at large and, ultimately, animal health and welfare, and public health."
"Collaboration among these highly respected international veterinary organizations amplifies the message that sound mental health and wellbeing is the very first step to allowing our colleagues to provide for the health and welfare of animals and people across the globe," said AVMA President Dr. John Howe.
The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative in the UK and the AVMA's Wellbeing and Peer Assistance Initiative provide the foundation for the joint statement. The five signatories will collaborate on projects advocating for positive behavior and support around mental health in the veterinary profession, developing evidence-based programs and sharing best practices around interventions. Their three-prong approach includes:
- Prevent: addressing the systemic issues that lead to poor levels of mental health, including the risk of suicide, and sub-optimal wellbeing across the veterinary team. This includes researching the issues and developing and advocating policies and interventions that are supportive of positive mental health.
- Protect: providing and promoting the skills and knowledge required by individuals and organizations to increase levels of wellbeing and improve mental health in veterinary medicine, making such interventions evidence-based and widely accessible.
- Support: ensuring suitable expert support is available to veterinary professionals and students who need it, provided in a confidential and safe environment, and accessible without fear of judgement.
"I am delighted that these three organizations are joining the RCVS and AVMA in promoting and supporting positive mental health amongst the veterinary community," said Lizzie Lockett, RCVS CEO and director of the Mind Matters Initiative. "The global veterinary community faces diverse challenges, but one common issue is ensuring that we care for and support our professionals so that they can, in turn, deliver high standards of care to animals and their owners – something that is particularly important to keep in mind this World Mental Health Day. I look forward to working with them towards this common aim."
The Mind Matters Initiative has been running in the UK since 2015 and addresses mental ill-health within the veterinary team by tackling systemic issues that put individuals at risk; protecting those who may be working in suboptimal conditions by providing them with training and tools such as mindfulness and personal wellbeing solutions; and supporting those who need specific help by funding and promoting independent sources of one-to-one help.
The AVMA program includes activities that address mental health issues for every member of the veterinary team. These include development of a workplace wellbeing education program and ongoing education and outreach in the areas of optimizing wellbeing, creating cultures of wellbeing in the workplace, boundary setting and conflict transformation.
"The WSAVA Professional Wellness Group's recently conducted worldwide survey indicates that issues concerning mental health and wellbeing affect all members of the veterinary team in all corners of the globe," said Dr. Nienke Endenburg, co-chair of the WSAVA's Professional Wellness Group. "These issues need to be addressed without delay to safeguard the health and well-being of veterinarians everywhere. We believe that collaboration between veterinary associations will help to raise awareness of this problem within the veterinary profession and assist in facilitating the development and sharing of tools and resources that will support veterinary team members, no matter where they practice."
All groups expressed the need for enhanced mental health and wellbeing and the sentiment that together they can make a global change for the veterinary profession.
"One in five Canadian veterinarians and technologists have reported suicide ideation, burnout, and depression. It is important that we support veterinary teams and provide them with the tools they need to cope with the diverse circumstances of this profession," says Dr. Melanie Hicks, CVMA president. "We have expanded our efforts in this area with our inaugural Mental Health Awareness Week, launched this September. The CVMA offered a suicide awareness and prevention webinar, along with additional resources including a mental health illness checklist and access to local assistance. We will continue to support this initiative throughout this year and every year. We are proud to endorse the mental health and wellbeing statement championed by these respected veterinary associations and look forward to a collaboration that helps safeguard the mental health of veterinarians."
"The mental health of veterinarians and veterinary students matters to us all," said Rens van Dobbenburgh, FVE president. Not only when and where issues occur, but equally in recognizing risky situations, addressing these appropriately and preventing mental problems as much as possible. It is shared responsibility of the veterinary profession to work together, to share best practices and to support safe work environments for ourselves, our colleagues and the whole veterinary team."