Who was Dr Helen Jones Fairnie AM
Testimonial from Dr Brian Mc Erlean
"The woman who is the face of Thrive is Dr Helen Jones Fairnie AM. Helen was at the forefront of creating a help seeking profession and to encourage veterinarians to gatekeep each other when the going gets tough."
What started with mentoring and OneLife in WA was soon adopted nationally and was incorporated into the AVA Wellness program run by the dedicated Monika Cole who has taken up the baton for the next generation. Dr Randall Lemin ensured the AVA Benevolent Fund was actively supportive of Helen’s mission.
Helen was fearless in her advocacy for veterinary wellbeing and as a past National AVA President she could open doors and give credence to the cause. She worked tirelessly to get the Wellness stand up at the AVA conferences so much so that it became part of the AVA stand, front and foremost in AVA. Current National AVA president, Dr Bronwyn Orr has placed Wellness as a priority on her presidential agenda.
Helen had tremendous energy and leadership skills, but she put other people first and encouraged them to give their best. No one was ever left out. We all miss her greatly, but her legacy carries and is embodied in the fact that help is always out there for any veterinarian struggling on the corrugated road of life.
When veterinary mental health and suicide prevention started in earnest 10 years ago in WA with government funding through OneLife, Helen worked tirelessly to get it off the ground and accepted.
We have saved lives, made lives better and encouraged the next generation of veterinarians to exercise, stay connected and to eat properly.
Helen passed away in 2020. Her work continues in Thrive and the AVA are honoured to continue the work she started.
Dr Brian Mc Erlean AVA Benevolent Fund Honorary Trustee
Testimonial from Dr Ian Fairnie
Like most Australian veterinarians, Helen was unaware of the extent of the extent of suicide as an occupational hazard for veterinarians. She assumed physical injuries would dominate a list of common causes.
However, as she analysed the results from her studies on occupational health in veterinarians, as part of her PhD research, she was very surprised, not only how prevalent mental health issues were, but the extent of them across the profession involving both recent and long-term graduates.
The reaction from the profession was mixed, to say the least.
Fortunately, several colleagues in WA provided her with specific examples to support her conclusions and proposed creating a Wellness Program for veterinarians that could be promoted at the Annual Conference.
Dr Ian Fairnie
Testimonial from Dr Paul Davey
Of course, I was aware of Helen and her achievements as soon as I became involved in the AVA in WA. Her name appears on the honour board as a past president and unfortunately sticks out as a rare female amongst a solid wall of male names. As soon as I met her, I realised she was not bothered by convention. Rather, she was driven by a deep passion for the profession and particularly those who needed assistance in being the best version of themselves. Unfortunately, it was only later in her life that I started to get a better understanding of the amazing achievements she had been responsible for both inside and outside her career as a veterinarian.
One of those that I was privileged to be a part of was the “VetHealth Initiative”. I am unsure of the exact date in or around 2005, but Pfizer representative Paul Buckley held a meeting in a restaurant in West Perth at which the concept was raised that vets might be more stressed and depressed than the rest of the population. Peter Symons spoke about his experiences and his theory of “Brain Fuel Depletion” and Helen, Brian McErlean, David Marshall and I, were others who were there to witness the start of an incredible program that has now become one of the most powerful issues affecting our profession and commanding substantial resources from the AVA and other stakeholders.
Some of those people at that meeting committed to doing something tangible and created what was initially termed the “SADA” group (Suicide and Depression Awareness) and then later the “VetHealth Initiative”, to acknowledge the more holistic focus of the project. Helen’s research into depression in our workforce along with her passion and networking were indeed a cornerstone of the project, and the main reason we were successful in hosting the first “Wellness Room” at the National AVA Conference in Perth in 2008.
Mental Health is now openly discussed on a daily basis. A quick search of my “Inbox” shows over 50 references to mental health within the emails I have NOT deleted within the last 6 months. I have no doubt that Helen has been instrumental in ensuring that open discussion of mental health has been normalised and we are well advanced in working on the solutions beyond just understanding there is a problem.
Dr Paul Davey OAM BSc BVMS / Partner - Grantham St Vet Clinic / Past President - WA Division of the AVA