Lizzie Lockett, MMI Director

International vet groups adopt RCVS and AVMA statement on mental health and wellbeing

Our joint statement with the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Mental Health and Wellbeing now has the support of three additional international veterinary groups.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) have joined forces to promote improved mental health and are new signatories to the Statement, which was adopted by the RCVS and AVMA in July 2018 and revised on 29 August 2019.

The statement prioritises positive mental health and wellbeing for the individual veterinarian, allied animal health care professional and veterinary student as the first step to a healthy profession and optimal animal health, welfare and public health. The statement reads:

“We believe that for veterinary professionals to realise 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.”

“I am delighted that these three organisations are joining the RCVS and AVMA in promoting and supporting positive mental health amongst the veterinary community. 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,” says Lizzie Lockett, RCVS CEO and Mind Matters Director (pictured right).

“Collaboration among these highly respected international veterinary organisations 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,” adds Dr John Howe, AVMA President.

Our Mind Matters Initiative and the AVMA’s Wellbeing and Peer Assistance Initiative are the foundation of the joint statement. The organisations that have signed onto the Statement on Mental Health and Wellbeing will collaborate on projects to advocate positive behaviour and support around mental health in the veterinary profession, developing evidence-based programs, and sharing best practices around interventions. A 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 organisations 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.

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 such as development of a workplace wellbeing education program and ongoing education and outreach in the areas of optimising 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 recognising 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.”