It´s 2018, Friday, August 24th. A ten page-long and well-written article on high suicide rates in the veterinary profession has just been published in Dagens Næringsliv, a reputable Norwegian newspaper.
Marianne´s phone is about to burst with thankful messages from vets all over Norway. She calls her friend and colleague Helene – it turns out her phone is going crazy, too.
We have both been interviewed in the article, among several other Norwegian vets, vetstudents and their family members. We have all forthrightly told our stories – about anxiety, financial despair, isolation, terrible work-life-balance, being bullied, depression, suicide.
Our vet colleagues all seem to have thought they were the only ones who didn´t cope well with the struggles of being a vet. They recognized their own experiences in the stories in the article, and felt a great relief of not being alone. Friends and family outside the veterinary profession were all in shock; “I had no idea being a vet is so hard!” – and even some clients brought flowers and chocolate to their local vets the week after to show gratitude to their vet.
At this time, Helene has already started fundraising for the NORVET project, a Ph.D. on mental health and wellbeing among Norwegian veterinarians (the NORVET study). She was already giving lectures on the topic, and also sharing her experience with poor mental health. She faced severe panic anxiety on her last year in vet school, partly due to the pressure of vet school and clinical exams, but mostly due to a challenging family situation. The combination of feeling panic anxiety attacks physically, as well as personal experience dealing with suicide attempts from someone close, made Helene want to make a change for the profession, and tear down the still existing stigma of mental health problems.
After the newspaper article was launched, Marianne was invited to several vet meetings to give her engaging talk on her experience of going through a severe work-related clinical depression, and the long and enlightening journey of getting well again. She is still running a small animal clinic and working full time as a small animal vet again. The scariest part is that this nasty mental illness can creep up on you and develop over time, without you even realizing it until it´s too late. “Everybody gets stressed out, right? I can cope with this”, we all seem to think.
We started giving our talks together, and now we have travelled all over Norway, and even Sweden and Denmark. The response to our talks has been overwhelming; there seems to be no end to the need of discussing these issues. Each talk feels like lancing a bite abscess. It’s both painful and nasty, but at the same time extremely satisfying. The most important part are the questions and discussions that arise after every talk – we really appreciate it!
A colleague referred to us as a “travelling road show on veterinary mental health”. We both have a burning desire to improve wellbeing in the veterinary profession. Because we share a sense of gallows humor, we started calling ourselves “Psychovets”. We are brutally honest. And we believe that the mission is possible; removing all stigma concerning mental health and improving quality of life in the vet profession. Stay tuned for another Psychovets-contribution in the next FECAVA newsletter!
(Marianne Linder Olsen (@doktorlinder) & Helene Seljenes Dalum (@helendalum))
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