You are here

OVC researchers focus on mental health and wellness

A group of Ontario Veterinary College researchers are working together in a multi-pronged approach to mental health and wellness initiatives for veterinarians, student veterinarians and agricultural producers.

The AWAR2E group – Advancement of Wellness and Resilience in Research and Education – combines expertise in a variety of areas.

The U of G group, includes Colleen Best, post-doctoral fellow; Prof. Joanne Hewson, Clinical Studies; Prof. Andria Jones-Bitton and Prof. Deep Khosa, both in Population Medicine; and Peter Conlon, associate dean, students.

The group saw “growing anecdotal evidence that our colleagues are not doing so well in terms of their wellness and resilience, and that some farmers may also be facing challenges with respect to the many stresses they face,” says Jones-Bitton.

The AWAR2E group came together to do research “so we could make evidence-based interventions to help both of these populations,” she adds.

On the agriculture side, Jones-Bitton is evaluating data from a producer wellness survey conducted in fall 2015. Initiatives are planned to better equip Ontario agriculture to proactively address mental health, including mental health literacy training and emergency response programming.

The underlying challenges with mental health are not unique to veterinary medicine, says Hewson. “They are common across many disciplines.”

Zoetis has committed $130,000 over three years to help the OVC researchers understand factors affecting the mental well-being of veterinarians, with the goal of developing training and other support programs for both veterinary students and practicing veterinarians.

A survey of Ontario veterinarians conducted last summer by the AWAR2E group is being followed up this year with a Canada-wide veterinarian survey looking at the prevalence of depression, anxiety, compassion fatigue, burnout and resilience.

The group will also engage in a qualitative study with veterinarians, with funding from Zoetis and OVC Pet Trust, focusing on veterinarians’ experience with mental health issues.

The group is passionate about trying to support and prepare students better for veterinary practice.

Communication is a major piece of the DVM curriculum through the “Art of Veterinary Medicine” courses in first, second and third year, says Conlon. Being able to integrate communication skills, knowledge and behaviours with other subjects such as clinical medicine, “increases students’ confidence and that in turn reduces stress,” he adds.

A one-week Wellness Rotation will be available to fourth-year student veterinarians starting in the 2016-2017 school year. The program will focus on an evidence-based understanding of mental wellness and resilience, including mind-body techniques, relaxation techniques, financial planning and selfcare, including exercise and nutrition.

“It all falls under the umbrella of trying to help them with mental health and wellness throughout their four years with us,” says Hewson.

“I’m proud of us as a veterinary college that we’re devoting resources and have so quickly assembled a team,” adds Best. “And we’re grateful to Zoetis for sharing our passion and their willingness to support the AWAR2E group at this early stage.”

#BellLetsTalk Day

(Photo: The AWAR2E group includes, from left, Colleen Best, Deep Khosa, Andria Jones-Bitton, Peter Conlon and Joanne Hewson.)