Valuing Mental Health, Valuing the Veterinary Community
Posted April 04, 2017
From left: Dr. Laura Peycke, Chris Dolan, Lanice Chappell, and
Veterinary students face numerous challenges every day. Long
hours, high-pressure exams, and large volumes of content to absorb
are just a few of the stresses veterinary students are faced with;
these challenges don’t end after graduation either. Demanding
situations and long workdays can also take a toll on a
veterinarian’s mental health.
Mental health issues affect the veterinary community
disproportionately compared to the general population, according to
a paper published in “Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric
Epidemiology.” Approximately 21 percent of veterinarians in the
United Kingdom reported suicidal ideations, in contrast to 3.9
percent of the general population. Similarly, a survey of Student
American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) members found that
approximately 47 percent of respondents report a personal history
of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.
Such statistics are unfortunate and troubling, and though mental
health is a difficult subject to tackle, it’s one that the Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
(CVM) refuses to ignore. Through a number of efforts, the college
is working to promote the mental well-being of veterinary students
by decreasing the stigma associated with mental illness, fostering
mental and physical wellness programs, and providing easily
accessible counseling services.
At the heart of the CVM’s mental health efforts is the notion of
achieving balance. Many of the pressures associated with being a
veterinarian cannot be removed, but how an individual responds to
these pressures can be managed.
In particular, the CVM is considering the importance of
resilience, or how an individual can bounce back from challenges
and difficulties. Dr. Laura Peycke, clinical associate professor at
the CVM, noted how the veterinary community can benefit from
resilience and suggested reframing thinking, moderating stress, and
managing emotions as a few ways to be resilient.
“How can we promote resilience? As instructors, we must focus on
helping students learn to recenter or ‘bounce back’ in response to
the rigors of veterinary life,” said Dr. Laura Peycke. “More
importantly, however, we can be realistic about what level of
commitment is sustainable in their careers in veterinary medicine,
as it relates to their professional and personal lives.”
Here at the CVM, the push for better wellness begins on day one.
The CVM hosts a day dedicated to wellness at orientation for
first-year veterinary students. School-life balance and stress
management are some of the main topics discussed. Speakers share
strategies for prioritizing and improving wellness, as well as
where to find additional resources, if needed.
The CVM also hosts monthly Lunch & Learns centered around
stress management, creating balance, and other wellness topics.
Many of the efforts to support mental wellness begin with the
students. Chris Dolan, a fourth-year veterinary student and
president of the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical
Association (SCAVMA), saw the need to schedule breaks for
veterinary students studying for finals. Dolan started “Find the
Joy Week,” which offers veterinary students a chance to take a
break the week before finals through events such as yoga classes
and ice skating.
SAVMA with the #vetmedunited sign that hung in CVM Fish Bowl to
raise awareness about mental health in veterinary school.
“Getting students to take time for themselves during finals is
vital to keep them from burning out,” Dolan said. “My hope is that
these events help students have fun and relieve the stress of
finals while spending time with their classmates.”
Student efforts go beyond the CVM. Fourth-year veterinary
student, Mike McEntire, serves on the SAVMA Wellness Task Force and
helped create the “It’s OK” campaign, which aims to reduce the
stigma associated with mental health in the veterinary community.
The campaign includes a video reaching out to veterinary students
who may be suffering from a mental illness to say that they are not
alone and it’s okay to seek help.
“As we began talking about wellness, I had students in every
year approach me, telling me their own stories of struggling with
wellness,” McEntire said. “None of them had wanted to talk about
it, because nobody was talking about it. So we created our
‘It’s OK’ campaign to let everybody know that it’s okay to talk
about these issues.”
Additionally, McEntire and the SAVMA Wellness Taskforce
conducted a wellness survey to better understand the struggles
faced by veterinary students. “We asked the 14,000 SAVMA members to
take this survey, and nearly 4,000 of them responded, showing just
how much students care about this issue,” McEntire said. “We found
that 67 percent of veterinary students have experienced a period of
depression, and that 37 percent of students said those periods
lasted longer than two weeks, which is the clinical definition of
depression. Five percent of veterinary students reported having
seriously contemplated suicide.”
Counseling at the CVM
A minute’s walk from the CVM’s main entrance is an in-house
counselor, Lanice Chappell, who is available for individual
counseling sessions. Chappell is a counselor with Texas A&M’s
Student Counseling Service (SCS), whose office serves as a
satellite of the SCS within the CVM.
“The deans and many others recognized it was difficult for
veterinary students to access the main counseling office because of
the students’ very full schedules,” Chappell said. “The partnership
between the SCS and CVM was created to reduce accessibility
barriers for veterinary students.”
A number of the services available to students on main campus
are available nearby for students in the vet school, such as
personal, career, and even couples counseling.
“Being embedded in the CVM school directly has allowed me to
interact with students outside of the counseling office at
orientation, outreaches, and in the hallways so that stigma is
reduced,” Chappell said.
While Chappell mainly focuses on individual counseling, she also
offers workshops, some of which are presented in collaboration with
the Texas A&M Professional Program’s Office. “We’ve presented
topics on stress management, habit formation, communication,
nutrition, and many others.”
In particular, one program that Chappell leads and recommends is
QPR—which stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer—training, which
focuses on suicide prevention. QPR training is open to faculty,
students, and staff throughout Texas A&M and is held throughout
Changing the Culture
Change does not come easy, but when it comes to the health and
well-being of the veterinary community, change may be necessary.
Numerous faculty members in the CVM have called for a cultural
change to combat mental illness.
The CVM recognizes the importance of mental health through
efforts to increase and emphasize diversity. “A sense of belonging
and inclusion is closely linked to an individual’s happiness. We
want each student to feel as if they are part of the woven fabric
that constitutes the DVM family,” Chappell said.
Peycke offered several recommendations for how professors can
facilitate a cultural change. She suggests breaking down the
illusion of perfection by being open and admitting that we all have
bad days. Additionally, she suggests professors inviting students
to participate in hobbies outside of the classroom.
“I try to let the students know that it is unrealistic to think
that we are going to be perfect every day,” Peycke said. “Rather,
it is more about showing up with the willingness to try to help and
maintain the attitude that we are going to do our very best. It is
Part of changing the culture also means recognizing when someone
is struggling and helping them get the help they need. “We are a
community, and as such, it’s more likely someone else will notice
if a person is struggling before that individual reaches out to
me,” Chappell said; however, she cautioned that “forcing someone to
come see me is usually a recipe for a poor treatment outcome
because the student may feel the referral is punitive. We encourage
faculty, staff, and peers to connect with the person and let them
know people care and would like to help. Help can be as simple as a
listening ear free from judgment or advice.”
Changing the culture and successfully combating mental health
issues won’t happen overnight. Instead, the CVM’s faculty,
students, and staff are chipping away at the stigma and adversity
associated with mental illness and moving toward a healthier,
happier, and more well-rounded veterinary community.
To learn more about the services offered at the Student
Counseling Service, visit scs.tamu.edu or call
979.845.4427. From 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. during weekdays and all
weekend, students can reach the Student Counseling Help Line at
If you are CVM staff or faculty and are worried about a student,
please contact the Professional Programs Office at 979.845.3878.
Additionally, students, faculty, and staff can visit TellSomebody.tamu.edu
to report concerning behavior.
For more information about the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our
website at vetmed.tamu.edu or
join us on Facebook
, and Twitter.
Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of
Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College
of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; firstname.lastname@example.org
; 979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)
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