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WCVM students took part in a "Duck Hunt" competition. Submitted photo.

Students create WCVM mental health week

From visits with furry friends to a crock pot cook-off, the first ever WCVM mental health week was a ton of fun. But behind the group activities and games lies a serious message – there is a big need for veterinary professionals to prioritize their mental health.

"This was a lot of fun to put on, but at the end of the day, the main goal of this was to hopefully help create more of a sense that it's entirely okay to have this discussion around mental health at the college," says Tim Donihee, president of the Western Canadian Veterinary Students' Association (WCVSA).

Students took the opportunity to de-stress and discuss mental health throughout the week, becoming involved in what Donihee calls a "very important conversation."

"Whether we are personally affected by it or it affects someone close to us, mental health is an issue of great importance and relevance within the veterinary community," he says. "Our industry has many unique challenges which puts us at high risk of developing mental illness, and [it] also makes us highly likely to have to interact with and help people cope with their own trying circumstances."

Donihee adds that the daily realities of the veterinary profession are further complicated by the stigma associated with mental illness, which is sometimes particularly challenging to deal with in a professional field for anyone — whether the person is a student, professor, clinician or veterinary technician.

The student-run events, which took place during the last week of February, focused on the theme of "building a resilient veterinary community." Events included a barbecue, movie night, a scavenger hunt, a "self-care selfie" competition, a board game night, yoga, meditation, equine and canine therapy, skating and a group dog walk.

Amidst all the fun, there were also panel discussions on mental health, resiliency and LGBTQ2 issues.

While the understanding around the mental health demands of the veterinary profession are growing within the industry, it's the students of today who will help shape the future.

"Students are the new wave of veterinarians. If they start leading the charge, you'll see a general cultural change within the entire profession," says Erin Wasson, veterinary social worker at the WCVM.

Most of the week's activities focused on "self-care," which Wasson defines as practices that support overall health and wellness. This includes eating well, sleeping well and looking after both psychological and physical selves.

"It's about ensuring we do our best to achieve a balance between workplace and personal life," says Wasson.

She commends the students for their work on the successful event, noting it was entirely student led.

"Our student population is interested in being preventive when it comes to mental health problems and mental health concerns. Our student population is engaged in the conversation around mental health … they are interested in creating a collegial environment where they're supportive of one another, and that's really special," she says.

The week-long event was supported by members of the Saskatoon business community including Live Five Theatre, Starbucks on Broadway, Persephone Theatre, Escape Sports, Bike Universe, Dinos Bar and GrillLiveFive, Float YXE, Chili's and Big Bang Hair Salon. The Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Association (SVMA) and the University of Saskatchewan also backed the students' efforts. Organizers also thank the WCVM and its Veterinary Social Work program for providing funding and support.

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