Helen Sanderson with a dog

Supporting others; supporting yourself

Helen Sanderson, former VPMA President and MMI Taskforce member.

Helen is the Business Development Manager for Vets4Pets, supporting 20 practices. She tells us what she learned at the recent Mental Health for Managers course

Each of us either knows someone, or is supporting someone in our work environment, who is struggling with a mental health issue. Whether the workplace is small or large, a mental health issue not only affects the individual, it can have an impact on the whole team. This is why we at the Veterinary Practice Management Association (VPMA) felt that giving training and tools to managers to help them to recognise and understand mental health was so important.

So, we were delighted to team up with the Mind Matters Initiative to offer something bespoke for veterinary managers. The course has been developed following feedback from a range of managers, and runs over a full day.

I attended the first one, back in February in Swindon, and I have to say it was well worth my time. We started by learning to understand the drivers of wellbeing and these aren’t what you would imagine, for instance ‘sleep’ and ‘recovery time’ are two of them…do we ever ask our colleagues “are you getting enough sleep?”, I don’t think I ever have done.

Life does bring stress and some of it is good and can help performance, but this can easily slip over the curve into distress if the relevant support mechanisms are not in place. Recognising stress was the next part of the discussion, and we all considered what different types might look like and how they could be categorised under the headings of Physical, Emotional and Behavioural, which helped us to recognise what form this might take might in our teams. We ran through a useful stress management tool to help us understand how we could deal with it and support colleagues.

This was then followed by a discussion about how to recognise suicidal thoughts. We used a scenario to run a group discussion on how we would deal with someone we thought was in danger and help us understand when to call for help.

Maintaining your own wellbeing and that of your team is just as importing as recognising illness and we learnt about the five-a-day concept of wellbeing, which is important for yourself and your team. Mental hygiene is rarely taught, so this was an important tool that we all took away.

We finished off the day by discussing how we support our colleagues, either back into work following a break, or on a day-to-day basis. We discussed the six attributes of compassion, ie motivation, sensitivity, sympathy, distress tolerance, empathy and being non-judgemental. We also considered how to run a ‘back to work’ interview, guided by a great set of questions to give some structure to this important conversation around how best to support colleagues returning after a break due to mental ill-health.

As a manager it highlighted to me that we need to not only look after our colleagues’ mental wellbeing but we also need to be aware of our own so we are in a good place to support them. The course gave me the knowledge to recognise potential issues and support my colleagues to succeed, and also offered signposts to useful resources that can be accessed locally or through the veterinary profession. If you do one thing for your team, I urge you to attend one of these days!

This one-day course is being run for us by Connecting with People right across the UK during 2017. To find a venue near you, and to register, please visit our Eventbrite page.



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