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Concern about the stressful nature of veterinary study and high suicide rates within the profession has led to an innovative peer support system at Liverpool veterinary school. Tina Usherwood, student counsellor and peer support coordinator, explains
EVIDENCE that veterinary surgeons in the UK are a high-risk group for suicide (Mellanby 2005) has led to studies exploring the possible causal factors (Bartram and Baldwin 2008) and potential preventive measures. Support for veterinary students is available from university counselling services and helplines within the profession. However, research shows that students, like the rest of us, tend to confide in and seek help primarily from their peers (Malla and Shaw 1987, Broadbridge 1996, Sell and Robson 1998). With education in suicide awareness, veterinary students become more likely to recognise suicidal signs and approach those they are concerned about (Mellanby and others 2010). Nevertheless, peers can often find themselves wanting to support their friends but at a loss to know how best to help, especially in a moment of crisis. Students often report feeling afraid of saying or doing ‘the wrong thing’, of feeling burdened by the enormity of a friend's problem and holding a confidence longer than is healthy or safe.
With this in mind, at Liverpool we have formalised peer support through a programme that offers significant training and continuing supervision to selected volunteer students to enhance and make safer the existing support provisions within the institution. A three-year pilot project is now underway …