Mental Health Awareness Month occurs every May and while we focus on the mental wellbeing of veterinary professionals 24/7, 365, now is the perfect opportunity take a deeper look at some of the specific programs we offer to veterinary professionals.
Veterinary Wellbeing Trends and Research
According to the 2022 Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study, the rate of serious psychological distress among veterinarians has increased since 2019 in large part due to the pandemic. Additionally, the 2022 Merck study included support staff in their survey and initial findings suggest that a higher percentage of staff members suffer from serious psychological distress than veterinarians.
These statistics are not what we want for the veterinary industry, and I’m grateful to be part of Not One More Vet (NOMV) where our mission is to transform the status of mental wellness within the profession so veterinary professionals can survive and thrive through education, resources, and support.
We hear from our members firsthand that the veterinary profession can be exhausting. There are the never-ending phone calls, moral distress involved in “gold standard care” versus what a client can afford, toxicity among team members. On top of all that, friends, family and even complete strangers consistently request free consultations when off the clock. Among all these components that make the profession a challenge, the pandemic brought about the added stressors including increased acquisition of pets, curbside care, staffing shortages, and all the chaos of the world outside the clinic at the time. It’s hardly a surprise that psychological distress rates increased in the industry.
If you recognize yourself or your clinic in these research findings it shows how salient the research is. This is a cornerstone to the work we do at NOMV – you are not alone.
Solutions for Improving Wellbeing
While there’s evidence-based research on wellbeing ranging from therapy to mindfulness to functional wellbeing, including getting enough sleep, eating lunch, and taking bio breaks, it can be overwhelming to look for resources while in throes of experiencing mental health distress.
Challenges as big as “mental wellbeing” require integrating several approaches to truly enact systemic changes. For this reason, NOMV utilizes a multidisciplinary strategy including public health, mental health, technology, and marketing to curate resources unique to the veterinary industry.
Public health identifies prevention opportunities at three levels: primary prevention, secondary prevention, and tertiary prevention. If you think of these prevention levels like a net:
- Primary prevention catches everyone in the net at a societal level regardless of whether or not a person has a mental health diagnosis.
- Secondary prevention is a slightly smaller net that only catches those with a mental health diagnosis.
- Tertiary prevention is a net that catches one individual person experiencing significant mental health distress per net.
NOMV has developed a comprehensive approach to help in all three of these levels. Each of NOMV’s programs fit into one of these three nets.
While all of these programs are fantastic, this post will highlight one of our newer programs, Lifeboat, which was first launched in late 2021. We are delighted to have the full support of IndeVets to help this vital peer-to-peer program thrive and grow in its ability to help more people.
Lifeboat by NOMV: An In-Depth Look
I can’t begin to count all the horror stories veterinary professionals share with me about their experiences with mental health professionals. As a mental health professional, myself, it’s concerning to hear about therapists that ask for free veterinary advice for their own pets instead of focusing on the unique challenges the person in front of them is experiencing. Equally concerning are therapists sharing inappropriate statements that undermine veterinary professionals with sentiments like “I could never work in the veterinary profession because I care too much about animals.” Meanwhile veterinary professionals do everything they can to save as many animals as possible within the boundaries established by their clinics because they care deeply about animals. These are just some of the plethora of comments veterinary professionals share with me about their negative experiences with mental health professionals who simply do not understand the veterinary profession.
NOMV heard these pleas for help and brainstormed solutions to help those in need. As with all our programming, Lifeboat is a grassroots program that seeks to offer a solution for an organic problem impacting the veterinary profession.
Whether it was fate or happenstance, Dr. Carrie Jurney, DVM, DACVIM (Neuro), NOMV President, and Dr. Elizabeth Strand, faculty at the University of Tennessee in the Veterinary Social Work program, found a shared dream of offering a solution to support veterinary professionals who need to feel seen and heard. Countless hours later the duo joined forces with several other disciplines to formulate the vision that would ultimately become Lifeboat by NOMV.
How does Lifeboat work?
Lifeboat operates anonymously to protect the privacy of NOMV volunteers and veterinary professionals in distress. If you or someone you know needs support, they can go to lifeboat.nomv.org and create their anonymous free account. Users select a pseudonym and answer a brief set of screening questions about their stressors and their background in the veterinary profession which gets stored in our HIPAA compliant database. After a veterinary professional creates their profile, the NOMV team gets to work matching up the needs of the veterinary professional with our groups of volunteers. The NOMV volunteer groups are trained in evidence-based peer-support and are designated as veterinarians or support staff members. Within each of these distinctions, volunteers are grouped into packs of three to ensure they can provide timely support to their fellow veterinary professionals in distress. Veterinarians and veterinary students are matched with groups of veterinarians and all other veterinary professionals are matched with a group of support staff volunteers.
How often can I expect to hear from NOMV volunteers?
Given that Lifeboat is asynchronous, the expectation of Lifeboat volunteers is that one of the volunteers will respond to any messages posted by their peers within 24 hours of the message being sent. Veterinary professionals are eligible to receive peer support for as long or as little as they wish through Lifeboat.
Is Lifeboat therapy?
No, Lifeboat is not therapy. Lifeboat is evidence-based peer-support which means the people on the other side of the conversation are fellow veterinary professionals who get the day to day struggles unique to the profession. As part of their support, there are five IndeVet doctors training to join the peer support team this year. We know peers can be a great supplement to professional care or a great first step if you’d like to seek professional care but need resources about where to start.
Making a difference one vet professional at a time
In 2022, we were honored that the program helped over 200 people in the vet industry deal with challenges.
“This Lifeboat pod is so valuable to me. It’s unique support that I can’t get from anywhere else; they are DVMs who understand the struggles DVMs go through, but they aren’t my co-workers or other people who see my everyday life.”
Today Lifeboat is available to all English-speaking veterinary professionals around the world for free and is designed as an asynchronous warmline for individuals looking for peer-support. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), “a warmline is a peer-run hotline that offers emotional support and is staffed by volunteers who are in recovery themselves.” With the help of IndeVets, Lifeboat will be available in the app store by the end of the year in addition to the web-based platform already available to anyone with an internet connection.
Together with supporters like IndeVets, we are committed to reversing the trends in mental health among veterinary professionals and will continue to evolve to meet the needs of those we help.