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OMMUNICATING by Sara Carney

Valuing Mental Health, Valuing the Veterinary Community

Left to right: Dr. Laura Peycke, Chris Dolan, Lanice Chappell, and Mike McEntire Veterinary students face numerous challenges every day. Long hours, high-pressure exams, and large volumes of content to absorb are just a few of the stresses veterinary students are faced with; these challenges don’t end after graduation either. Demanding situations and long workdays can also take a toll on a veterinarian’s mental health. Mental health issues affect the veterinary community disproportionately compared to the general population, according to a paper published in ‘Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology’. Approximately 21 percent of veterinarians in the United Kingdom reported suicidal ideations, in contrast to 3.9 percent of the general population. Similarly, a survey of Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) members found that approximately 47 percent of respondents report a personal history of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Such statistics are unfortunate and troubling, and though mental health is a difficult subject to tackle, it’s one that the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) refuses to ignore. Through a number of efforts, the college is working to promote the mental well-being of veterinary students by decreasing the stigma associated with mental illness, fostering mental and physical wellness programs, and providing easily accessible counseling services.

Achieving Balance At the heart of the CVM’s mental health efforts is the notion of achieving balance. Many of the pressures associated with being a veterinarian cannot be removed, but how an individual responds to these pressures can be managed. In particular, the CVM is considering the importance of resilience, or how an individual can bounce back from challenges and difficulties. Dr. Laura Peycke, clinical associate professor at the CVM, noted how the veterinary 18 •

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community can benefit from resilience and suggested reframing thinking, moderating stress, and managing emotions as a few ways to be resilient. “How can we promote resilience? As instructors, we must focus on helping students learn to recenter or ‘bounce back’ in response to the rigors of veterinary life,” said Dr. Laura Peycke. “More importantly, however, we can be realistic about what level of commitment is sustainable in their careers in veterinary medicine, as it relates to their professional and personal lives.” Here at the CVM, the push for better wellness begins on day one. The CVM hosts a day dedicated to wellness at orientation for first-year veterinary students. Schoollife balance and stress management are some of the main topics discussed. Speakers share strategies for prioritizing and improving wellness, as well as where to find additional resources, if needed. The CVM also hosts monthly Lunch & Learns centered around stress management, creating balance, and other wellness topics.

Student Efforts Many of the efforts to support mental wellness begin with the students. Chris Dolan, a fourth-year veterinary student and president of the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (SCAVMA), saw the need to schedule breaks for veterinary students studying for finals. Dolan started “Find the Joy Week,” which offers veterinary students a chance to take a break the week before finals through events such as yoga classes and ice skating. “Getting students to take time for themselves during finals is vital to keep them from burning out,” Dolan said. “My hope is that these events help students have fun and relieve the stress of finals while spending time with their classmates.” Student efforts go beyond the CVM. Fourth-year veterinary student, Mike McEntire, serves on the SAVMA Wellness Task Force and helped create the “It’s OK” campaign, which aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental health in the veterinary community. The campaign includes a video reaching out to veterinary students who may be suffering from a mental illness to say that they are not alone and it’s okay to seek help. “As we began talking about wellness, I had students in every year approach me, telling me their own stories of struggling with wellness,” McEntire said. “None of them had wanted to talk about it, because nobody was talking about it. So we created our ‘It’s OK’ campaign to let everybody know that it’s okay to talk about these issues.” Additionally, McEntire and the SAVMA Wellness Taskforce conducted a wellness survey to better understand the struggles faced by veterinary students. “We asked the 14,000 SAVMA members to take this survey, and nearly 4,000 of them responded, showing just how much students care about this issue,” McEntire said. “We found that 67 percent of veterinary students have experienced a period

CVM Today - Winter 2017  

A semi-annual publication for the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical...

CVM Today - Winter 2017  

A semi-annual publication for the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical...