• NAVC Brands
From the Field, Personal Wellbeing

Addressing the Profession’s Mental Health Challenges

Banfield has introduced a first-of-its-kind suicide prevention training designed specifically for veterinary professionals.

Lisa Stewart-BrownMS, MBA

Lisa Stewart-Brown has a passion for building comprehensive mental health strategies to meet the unique needs of associates. With over 20+ years of experience, she integrates mental health and wellbeing into the business by drawing upon her work as a licensed clinical social worker and her MBA knowledge. Prior to Banfield Pet Hospital, Lisa held roles at United States Postal Services Employee Assistant Program, Costco’s Employee Assistant Program, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Rady’s Children’s Hospital.  Lisa lives with her wife, two children and nine pet family members, on a small farm in California.

Addressing the Profession’s Mental Health Challenges

The veterinary profession is filled with many rewards, but it also comes with great emotional challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 veterinarians considers suicide. In 2019, the CDC also reported rates of suicide are 2.1 times higher than the general population among male veterinarians and 3.5 times higher for female veterinarians.

Many people outside of this industry, and even those just beginning their career in veterinary medicine, do not realize how emotional and mentally taxing this profession can be. The daily pace is fast, unpredictable, and the range of emotions can be vast—from dealing with emotional and sometimes traumatic situations with pets that might have been abused or neglected, to entering an exam room to meet a family’s first puppy, contrasted with the grief that comes with end-of-life care for a pet you’ve known its entire life.

A backdrop for many of these emotional ups and downs is that veterinarians face some of the highest rates of student debt and debt-to-income ratio, with the American Veterinary Medical Association estimating the average debt of veterinary college graduates with student loans is more than $180,000. These challenges, if left unaddressed, can impact veterinarians mentally and physically over time and can lead to compassion fatigue, stress, depression, anxiety, exhaustion, or other health issues.

Although we are seeing more health and wellbeing efforts made in veterinary programs, there is so much more work to be done.

Breaking the Stigma

Mental health and suicide have been considered taboo for far too long. At Banfield, we are working to raise awareness of these challenges that impact many who care for pets, with the ultimate goal of eliminating that stigma.

In September 2019, Banfield announced “ASK – Assess, Support, Know,” a first-of-its-kind suicide prevention training designed specifically for veterinary professionals. Understanding the importance of prioritizing mental health and wellbeing for those in the veterinary profession, we closed schedules at all 1,000-plus Banfield hospitals nationwide for 2 hours to facilitate an interactive mental health and wellbeing training for our 19,000-plus hospital associates, and in January 2020, we made “ASK” available as a free resource for all veterinary professionals and veterinary school students.

ASK – Assess, Support, Know

“ASK” was created in-house by our Health & Wellbeing and Learning & Development teams, with most of the content developed by me as a licensed clinical social worker and MBA with more than 20 years of clinical mental health experience. “ASK” has been reviewed and endorsed by the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, American Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Association of Suicidology, and contains the 3 essential elements of suicide prevention trainings:

  1. How to recognize the warning signs when someone is in emotional distress or may be having suicidal thoughts
  2. How to provide support and help ensure they remain safe
  3. How to connect them to appropriate professional help

The e-learning and accompanying online resources include real-life scenarios, talking points, myths versus facts, and tools to help veterinary professionals know what to look for, navigate tough situations, and get support. The training is designed to help build confidence and competence in how to have these supportive conversations as a peer, colleague, friend or family member rather than a mental health expert.

As a provider of preventive care for pets, we are committed to extending that same level of preventive care to our people. And as a practice, we are prioritizing this proactively because we take our responsibility for the health and wellbeing of our associates seriously, today and tomorrow. We believe our “ASK” training and resources will not only make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, but also have the potential to save them.

Additional Resources

For anyone who experiences suicidal thoughts, veterinarian or not, it is important to know you’re not alone, and there are resources available, whether through the people you work with every day or organizations dedicated to addressing these impacts.

  • If you are worried for someone’s immediate safety, calling 911 is the best option since first responders are trained in mental health emergencies.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1 800-273-TALK) is available 24/7 for people who are feeling suicidal or those who are worried someone they work with or care about may be suicidal.
  • If struggling or feeling overwhelmed, seeking help through your primary care doctor is a good next step.
  • Employers may offer Employee Assistance Programs with no-cost counseling services that are confidential and separate from your insurance benefits. Check with your benefits administrator to see if this type of program is offered through your employment.

Working Together to Make an Impact

Our goal is to help raise awareness of the mental health challenges that impact veterinary professionals and build targeted solutions that help those that have chosen this amazing profession to be able to thrive and provide the best possible care to the pets we love so much.

Since making “ASK” available as a free resource in January 2020, hundreds of veterinary professionals have taken the training via ASKAssessSupportKnow.com. We welcome you to join us in taking the training and sharing with your friends and colleagues in the profession. When we come together, we have the ability to make a great and lasting impact.