At any veterinary conference you will see dozens of vets wearing sweaters emblazoned with Be Kind. Here’s why.
Most people probably assume being a vet is a dream job. This is in many ways true because most vets started dreaming about helping animals since they were in primary school.
There are many exhilarating moments in the life of a vet, for example attending calvings at night and successfully bringing a new life into the world against all the odds. Or treating beloved pets who are considered to be members of their family - sometimes a dog or cat can be that person’s only companion.
However, many people will be surprised to learn that vets struggle with mental health issues, anxiety and depression, and experience high levels of workplace stress. Worryingly, vets have a suicide rate four times the national average. There are many factors which can contribute to workplace stress for veterinary professionals, including the long working hours, expectations, ethical challenges, and sometimes the feeling of being undervalued.
Vetlife is a charity run by vets that provides a 24 hour helpline for veterinary professionals who need to talk to someone. It is receiving more calls every year, and so far in 2018 has responded to more than 2500 contacts.
18 months ago, a young vet called Sarah, who became a trustee of Vetlife, helped to set up a Facebook group called Veterinary Voices UK. This group of 7500 vets and nurses discuss difficult emotional and ethical issues and provide each other with support and advice. This group regularly partake in sponsored events and activities in order to raise funds for Vetlife.
Last year Sarah tragically died. Three days previously she had posted a selfie on Instagram wearing her new Be Kind sweater. When Smith Webb, the company who sold the sweaters learned of Sarah’s story, they kindly agreed to donate a proportion of each sale to Vetlife in memory of her. So, hundreds of Vets are now traipsing around in Be Kind sweaters to support Vetlife and as a tribute to Sarah who had so successfully raised awareness of the issues around veterinary mental health, which she cared so much about.
We all miss Sarah very much. But we know she would smile if she knew that Be Kind had now become the unofficial motto of the veterinary profession.