'Know that small acts can make a difference, even when things feel overwhelming.'
World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) is observed on 10 September every year, with organisations and communities across the globe uniting to raise awareness about behaviours relating to suicide and how they can be prevented.
This World Suicide Prevention Day, mental health charity Vetlife is sharing guidance for veterinary communities on the small steps they can take towards prevention. The steps include ensuring workplaces are safe and supportive for people experiencing mental health conditions and providing support for veterinary professionals who have experienced a complaint.
Suicide rates in the veterinary profession are an increasing concern. Research into the reasons for these elevated rates is ongoing, but a 2012 study identified several common contributory factors, including career concerns, patient issues, workplace relationships and responsibility.
The study of 21 veterinary surgeons also found that the number of hours and volume of work was a key factor in why participants felt suicidal. Two-thirds of vets were experiencing difficult life events alongside these work-related factors, and half received a psychiatric diagnosis after the suicide attempt.
The loss of a family member, colleague or friend to suicide is devastating and, sadly, many veterinary communities have felt the profound impact of suicide or the pain of suicidal thoughts. Vetlife says that small steps that might help towards prevention include:
- Ensuring workplaces are safe and supportive spaces for people experiencing health conditions. Sometimes veterinary professionals can fear the consequences of disclosing mental health conditions. We need to ensure it is safe for them to do so and that they know they will receive an effective and supportive response.
- Ensuring support for veterinary professionals who have experienced a complaint, and be aware that what may seem like a small issue to someone outside the situation can be experienced as life-changing if someone starts to fear the loss of their vocation.
- Reaching out to people who are going through difficulty. It can be difficult for veterinary professionals to ask for help, and it isn't enough to wait for people to ask.
- Supporting veterinary professionals and members of the veterinary family who are bereaved by suicide. Losing someone to suicide, even for people who did not know the person well, can have a profound impact, and support for that grief and for potential health consequences that may be experienced later is vital. People may have different needs so be flexible and don't put a time limit on support.
- Knowing that small acts can make a difference, even when things feel overwhelming, an act of kindness, a listening ear, and a space that is safe and non-judgemental can help.
Vetlife works to prevent suicide in the veterinary profession and runs a Helpline for those who are struggling, as well as providing mental health and financial assistance. All Vetlife volunteers are members of the veterinary community themselves and have a first-hand understanding of the type of challenges the profession can bring.
The Vetlife Helpline is available 24 hours a day, every day for the veterinary community. All in the profession are welcome to speak to the Helpline, including non-clinical staff, vet nurses and students. If you need support, call the Helpline on 0303 040 2551 or email anonymously at www.helpline.vetlife.org.uk