Veterinary Students Stand Together for Suicide Awareness

May 3, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

American Veterinarian, May 2018, Volume 3, Issue 4

Veterinary students have created the #VetMedUnited movement to spread awareness of suicide and break down the stigma associated with asking for help.

Nearly 1 in 6 veterinarians will consider suicide at some point during their career, according to CDC survey data.1 This startling statistic, and others like it, has sparked the #VetMedUnited movement, which aims to remember the veterinarians and veterinary students who have been lost to suicide, raise awareness about mental health in the profession, and promote more wellness initiatives throughout veterinary schools and hospitals.

Every year on April 4, the Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) Wellness Committee encourages chapters across the globe to participate in this day of remembrance in whatever way they can. Among the many campus events this year, students held vigils, made signs, participated in wellness seminars, and more to stand up against mental health stigmas and demonstrate their hope for the future of the profession.

Here is a sampling of the many #VetMedUnited events SAVMA chapters organized on and about April 4.

A week of wellness and awareness at MSU started with a talk on signs and stressors related to suicide given by DASIUM, an organization dedicated to the prevention of depression, addiction, and suicide in teens and young adults. Then, a group from High Performance Vets, which helps coach veterinarians on how to succeed professionally, educated students one-on-one about starting their careers on the right foot. The chapter also organized a dinner talk on self-care and the tools students can use to help to manage their well-being.

Students also tye-dyed 600 #VetMedUnited T-shirts and wore them when they gathered for a moment of silence outside their classrooms, commemorating the week of wellness with a group photo.

“In addition to all of this,” MSU SAVMA President Chelsea Woodcock said, “we distributed #VetMedUnited ribbons, badge holders, silicon bracelets, stickers, and buttons throughout the MSU Veterinary Medical Center for faculty, staff, [and] third- and fourth-year veterinary students, and in the veterinary medical building for first- and second-year veterinary students, faculty, and staff.”

The LSU SAVMA board partnered with the LSU Wellness Committee to sponsor several events for #VetMedUnited Day.

"The main event was a wellness picnic to encourage students to get outside and take a break from the classroom," Morgan Richard, LSU SAVMA senior delegate, said. Veterinary students played various outdoor games, flew kites, and participated in different sports activities.

“We also made a sign and asked students to share encouraging words for their fellow students on it,” Richard said. This #VetMedUnited sign now hangs proudly in a hallway near the veterinary school classrooms and will remain there until summer break.

NC State SAVMA celebrated #VetMedUnited Wellness Week right before finals week. Students made wellness kits filled with reusable heating pads, stress balls, and facial scrubs and listened to a #StoptheStigma talk on wellness by NC State College of Veterinary Medicine Dean David Paul Lunn, BVSc, MS, PhD, MRCVS, DACVIM.

“We incorporated students, faculty and staff with the events and focused on taking time for what makes you happy,” Madeline Zurowsky, NC State SAVMA delegate, said, “and finding your ‘why’—why you chose veterinary medicine.”

The dean, along with university faculty and counseling staff, spoke to students about the rising levels of suicide, how to reduce stress after difficult cases of euthanasia, and the importance of stopping the stigma associated with discussing mental health issues. OSU SAVMA brought its university community together for #VetMedUnited Day to raise awareness for suicide across the board. The event consisted of one-on-one discussions between interested students and a clinical therapist or clinical psychologist about available mental health resources as well as posters for veterinary students to sign and pledge their support for their peers.

But the student group wasn’t just raising awareness for veterinarian suicide prevention. “Since SAVMA has a large community outreach component,” Megan Parry, health and wellness chair for OSU SAVMA, said, “we worked that into the event by raising money for Mission 22, a suicide prevention organization that aims to provide resources to veterans and their families.” Participants could donate to the organization by purchasing raffle tickets, which put them in the running to win gift baskets.

“Overall, the event went very well,” Parry said. “We had many students stop by and sign the posters and meet the clinical therapist and psychologist, and I felt that we were able to bring awareness to the issue.”

The theme of #VetMedUnited Day at Purdue was “Togetherness Is Sweet.” To fit with that theme, the Purdue SAVMA chapter created an ice cream bar, stocked to the brim with blue toppings—one of the colors of suicide awareness. Students could also sign a poster and express what they love about the veterinary profession.

“We wanted to bring greater awareness to this day and educate our students on what it signifies,” Purdue SAVMA President-elect Kristi Mariko said. “We wanted to make this an interactive event where veterinary students, veterinary technician students, faculty, and staff could come together and remind each other of why they got into veterinary medicine and what they love about the veterinary community.”

Mariko said this event was extremely important to her because she has taken an interest in mental health in the veterinary industry. “I am excited to grow this event for future years,” she continued.

Every veterinary student and faculty member received a #VetMedUnited pin to commemorate this special day, according to Lincoln Memorial SAVMA Treasurer Cortney Curtis.

“We also had a really awesome US map up for the week,” she continued. “Students would pin the locations where they lived or had a connection to, as well as where they thought they might end up in the future. After that, they tied a string connecting all of their pins.” This allowed the students to see where everyone would be located and to remind them that there will always be classmates close by to help out in a time of need. WSU veterinary students showed their support by placing purple and teal handprints for suicide prevention on a #VetMedUnited banner.

“It was incredible to see such great support from our faculty and staff as well,” Jacqueline Alford, WSU SAVMA senior delegate, said. “Our counselors, faculty, and staff, and our media crew all came out to support the event."

Students also wrote on poster boards labeled “What’s Your Why?” to encourage one another to share why they chose veterinary medicine.

“Overall, it was an awesome opportunity for the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine to come together and break the stigma behind mental health and seeking help for issues that students may be facing,” Alford said.

Credit: Henry Moore Jr, CVM/BCU, Washington State University

Reference:

  • Nett RJ, Witte TK, Holzbauer SM, et all. Risk factors for suicide, attitudes toward men- tal illness, and practice-related stressors among US veterinarians. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2015;247(8):945-955. doi: 10.2460/javma.247.8.945.
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