11 February 2016

Western College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Mental Health Strategies

Traditionally veterinary school encompasses a curriculum largely comprised of science courses teaching students subjects like anatomy and surgical skills. Through a partnership with the University of Regina, the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) has become the first veterinary college in Canada to have a trained social worker on site to help students learn to cope with the emotional challenges of the profession.

Drawn to the job because of a love for animals, veterinarians have to deal with the stress of euthanasia, witnessing the results of abuse or neglect, and the inability to provide treatment for an animal for financial reasons. 

"I think some of the common pieces that come through are the moral stress that people experience in wanting to provide adequate care to the animals that are under their care and also recognizing that there are financial constraints that the human counterpart is going to have to endure, and they are going to have to endure alongside their human clients," Erin Wassen, social worker at WCVM, said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Prevalence of Risk Factors for Suicide Among Veterinarians—United States, 2014” survey, based on answers from more than 10,000 practicing veterinarians, revealed the following:
  • 6.8 percent of males and 10.9 percent of females in the profession have serious psychological distress compared with 3.5 percent and 4.4 percent of U.S. male and female adults.
  • 24.5 percent of males and 36.7 percent of females in veterinary medicine have experienced depressive episodes since veterinary school, which is about 1 1/2 times the prevalence in U.S. adults overall throughout their lifetime.
  • 14.4 percent of males and 19.1 percent of females who are veterinarians have considered suicide since graduation. This is three times the U.S. national mean.
  • 1.1 percent of males and 1.4 percent of females in the veterinary profession have attempted suicide since veterinary school. 

By bringing in a social worker from the University of Regina, WCVM can start teaching mental health strategies before the vets start practicing.

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