13 May 2022

Show your support for Flynn's veterinary mental health walk

| Claire Fenwicke
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Two- and four-legged Flynn's Walk participants prepare for the 22 May event..

Flynn’s Walk returns to Canberra on 22 May. Photo: Flynn’s Walk Facebook, Photox Canberra.

Flynn’s Walk is the event Jack Levitt wished he never had to create.

“It’s bittersweet, I would trade it all to have my friend back,” he said.

The volunteer run-walk was created in 2018 to honour the memory of Dr Flynn Hargreaves (BVSc) who died by suicide.

As Mr Levitt navigated the grief of losing his friend, he found a community of people who also knew a veterinarian who had either burned out, left the industry, or taken their own life.

Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) data shows vets are four times more likely to die by suicide than the general population and two times more likely than other medical professionals.

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Mr Levitt said this drove him to bring together those who knew Dr Hargreaves and have the first Flynn’s Walk in Melbourne.

“I know he’d be proud of it, he’d also be awfully embarrassed it’s under his name. But he’d support this if it was under someone else’s name,” he said.

“Flynn was amazing at networking, at bringing people together, so it’s a special legacy to have left.”

The event arrived in Canberra for the first time in 2021 and is preparing to lap Lake Burley Griffin again on 22 May.

About 400 people celebrate at Canberra's inaugural Flynn's Walk in 2021.

About 400 people attend Canberra’s inaugural Flynn’s Walk in 2021. Photo: Flynn’s Walk Facebook, Photox Canberra.

Mr Levitt was urged to bring the event to the Territory by vet nurse Carrie Traynor-Dobie, who has worked in the Queanbeyan region since 2016.

“The majority of people in the industry have been impacted by losing a colleague or someone they know through suicide,” she said.

“I know two people, a vet and a nurse, who took their own lives. That moved me to find out what more could be done.”

Stalls sell items to raise money for mental health at Flynn's Walk. Items are sold to raise money for mental health at Flynn’s Walk. Photo: Flynn’s Walk Facebook, Photox Canberra.

She said the veterinary industry was particularly struggling in the face of COVID-19, which saw a surge in pet ownership and prices across Australia.

“We’re losing people each year to stress and burnout, it’s taking a huge toll on everyone’s mental health.”

Ms Traynor-Dobie said the Canberra veterinary community was not immune to staffing shortages.

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“I know of multiple practices in Canberra which previously had six or seven vets are now running on two vets,” she said.

Dr Bill Taylor from Queanbeyan Veterinary Hospital has also noticed the struggle to attract new vets to the region.

“We don’t have any training local to Canberra and we don’t have many ‘born and bred’ Canberra vets, so we’re trying to bring graduates to the area,” he said.

Participants head off on the Flynn's Walk.Vets and the broader community are invited to come along for a walk and a chat. Photo: Flynn’s Walk Facebook, Photox Canberra.

“Of course there’s the mental health factor as well, most vets in our region don’t have the external support networks such as family and friends, so that fuels the shortage here as well.”

He also pointed to COVID’s impact on the industry – a 15 to 20 per cent uptick in pet ownership but no increase in vet numbers.

“Add that to time pressures, unpredictable nature of what you’ll be dealing with each day, long hours… it’s hard to have a mastery across all areas.”

Participants meet near Questacon before walking around Lake Burley Griffin. Participants will meet near Questacon before walking around Lake Burley Griffin. Photo: Flynn’s Walk Facebook, Photox Canberra.

He said the AVA had developed more strategies to combat the mental pressures of the job, such as new graduate mentoring programs, additional resources and vet-specific mental health first-aid training.

Locally, Dr Taylor is part of the Canberra Paws Veterinary Group, which has created a support network for all vets in the area.

Canberra’s Flynn’s Walk event starts at 10:30 am on 22 May. However you can turn up to Queen Elizabeth Terrace near Questacon at 9:30 am for a free coffee and stay afterwards for a free sausage sizzle.

Flynn’s Walk also has its podcast series ‘Flynn’s Talk‘ to continue the conversation, plus its free ‘Cultivet Well-being Series‘ online.

If you or anyone you know needs help, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support.

Two greyhounds get ready for the Flynn's Walk.

Everyone is encouraged to bring along their pets to Canberra’s Flynn’s Walk on 22 May. Photo: Flynn’s Walk Facebook, Photox Canberra.

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