A VET, who dedicates time to support the mental health of colleagues, has called for more research into why the veterinary profession is at greater risk of suicide and self-harm than the rest of the population.
Steph Walsh, who is co-chair of the Wellbeing Group at UK veterinary group VetPartners, said discussing work-related stress will help to reduce the stigma of mental health issues and encourage vets to seek help.
Her call comes after research she carried out while studying for a Masters in Workplace Health and Wellbeing.
Steph, who is first opinion head vet at Rutland House Veterinary Hospital in St Helens, achieved the qualification with distinction at Nottingham University School of Medicine.
She believes the support she received to do the two-year course underlined VetPartners’ commitment to the wellbeing of employees, as well as highlighting the need to talk about mental health issues.
According to the charity Vetlife, veterinary surgeons in the UK are three to four times more likely than the general population to die by suicide – a statistic which formed the basis of Steph’s research project into suicide behaviour and self-harm among UK vets.
Dr Walsh said: “I think doing the research project identified for me the need for more research into why the veterinary profession has higher rates of suicide ideation than the rest of the population.
“There are multiple factors why the veterinary profession is at an increased risk. It has been suggested that people who go into the veterinary profession have personality traits that are predisposed to an increased risk of mental health and suicide ideation.
“Some of it is related to work-related stress and increasing evidence of unrealistic client expectations, and also because we accept euthanasia of animals, that may also give us a different view of death and potentially suicide.
“Doing the Masters has shown me that vets are not alone and other professions are struggling with their mental health as well. There has been a lot more research into suicide behaviour of doctors, for example, and we can learn a lot by looking at them too.”
Steph believes important steps are being made within the profession to tackle mental health and wellbeing issues, and is proud of VetPartners’ commitment to supporting their practice team members.
VetPartners funded her studies, which included modules on sickness absence, work-related stress, promotion of workplace health and wellbeing and contemporary issues in the workplace, culminating in her research project.
Steph said: “Doing the Masters highlighted how important it is to talk about wellbeing and be aware of the issues to reduce the stigma around mental health.
“As a group, we want to be open to talking about mental health and educating everyone about the signs to look out for in themselves and their colleagues. If people have concerns, we need to ensure they know where to go for help.
“VetPartners supported me and funded the course, which is a great acknowledgement of the importance they place on health and wellbeing matters and want to invest in this whole area.”
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