Veterinary Ireland has launched a mental health support initiative for vets, who are “at an increased risk of death by suicide”.

The representative body for veterinary surgeons in Ireland officially revealed the initiative at its 2019 AGM and conference in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, today, Friday, November 22.

According to Veterinary Ireland president David McGuinness, the “proportional mortality rate for suicide among the veterinary profession is four times that of the general population, and around twice that of other healthcare professionals”.

The Vet Support Ireland initiative is aimed at vets, vet nurses and lay staff.

The service will be manned by 11 trained supporters – who are either vets or vet nurses themselves – who work on a voluntary basis.

McGuinness pointed to his own good fortune of being able to speak to his father – who was also a vet – about traumatic cases and the stresses of the job.

“I was tremendously lucky to have had him by my side to provide advice and reassurance in those years,” he said.

Young vets, and rural-based vets in particular, can find themselves in much more isolated circumstances. These trained supporters will hopefully help people in stress by giving them the tools and support and reassurance to help to manage their pressure and difficulties.

“In the context of the alarming levels of suicide among vets in Ireland and the UK, we want to highlight the importance of nurturing emotional and mental wellbeing, and make mental health an issue that is as widely talked about and accepted as physical health,” McGuinness added.

‘Tip of the mental health iceberg’

“Suicide is often described as a the tip of the mental health iceberg,” said David McKeown, a Co. Antrim based vet, who spoke at today’s conference.

He highlighted that research conducted in Northern Ireland “confirmed the perceived need for peer support locally, to combat and hopefully reduce the incidence of poor emotional health within the wider veterinary community”.

“A Vet Support service was launched in Northern Ireland in 2017 and has interacted with 180 colleagues so far,” McKeown pointed out.

Some of the contacts have quite serious life issues that they want to talk through, but we have seen that the majority are seeking help to think their way through worrying concerns. These include making career choices; work related stress; communications difficulties with clients and colleagues; relationship breakdown at work or at home; bullying; lack of assertiveness; and isolation or lack of support and direction.

The new project will be an addition to the existing Veterinary Assistance Programme.

Launching this initiative will be the last act of David McGuinness’ tenure at the helm of Veterinary Ireland. At the conference today, Co. Galway-based vet Conor Geraghty will formally take the reins of the representative body.

To find out more about the new Vet Support Ireland initiative, click here.