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Abi Hanson

My Mind Matters Campfire Chats Reflections

When I first joined the RCVS as the Mind Matters Initiative Officer in June 2021, I, like many others found myself thrust into a new job and a new industry in a primarily virtual world.

The pandemic was still rife and finding that all important connection was more important than ever before. People had slowly started going back into workplaces, but everything was still very unpredictable. Everyone still had to be hugely cautious and making any in person connections was somewhat challenging.

That’s why I was delighted when I first heard about the Mind Matters Campfire Chats, which took off in January 2021 as a way of bringing the veterinary community together to speak about important topics that mattered most to them. I was even more excited (if not somewhat nervous as an industry newbie!) to hear that as part of my role I would be heading them up. I would be able to choose the content, the panellists and coordinate the whole of the upcoming series. We have now run a total of four Campfire Chat series and have had nearly 20 chats!

The great thing about the Campfire Chats, is that I can honestly say I have left every single chat feeling more positive than I did when joining the call. All the panellists and attendees have been so open and honest that each and every chat has become a really positive shared experience of learning and growing together.

Mental health has always been something extremely close to my heart, and whilst there are undoubtedly some wellbeing challenges that are more specific to the veterinary professions, mental wellbeing is something that unites us all. No matter who we are, where we’re from, or which sector we work in, we must all learn to look after our mental wellbeing. No wellbeing challenge is unique to one specific person or one specific profession.

This is why we were really eager to have a wide range of voices included in these conversations, from both within and outside of the veterinary world. It is all too easy for us to make assumptions about the thoughts, feelings and opinions of others, which is why it is so important to gain a range of perspectives on a number of different issues.

None of our Campfire Chats are ever recorded as we like to keep them as intimate as possible – people often feel less comfortable opening up if they know they are being recorded. We want the conversations to be authentic – as if we really are all sat round a real campfire having a genuine chat. The information shared is often really useful as we regularly invite experts to come and share their knowledge on a specific topic, but more often than not it’s just as interesting to see how people from different backgrounds perceive things in different ways. Varying human perspectives and experiences are fascinating and often provide value beyond knowledge alone. Learning to view things from others’ perspectives can teach us invaluable lessons.

Over the past year and a half, we have run sessions on a huge variety of topics, some summaries for which can be viewed on our Campfire Chats resource page. No matter what the topic, there are always valuable messages to take away from every chat. Some of my favourite takeaways from our panellists are as follows:

“Make sure you look after yourself and understand that you are more than your job. You are you, and that’s enough.”Overcoming Self-Doubt and Stressing Out

“Comparison is the thief of joy – there is no hierarchy when it comes to creativity so do whatever you want to do for you. Not for anyone else. It’s about the process and doing something that you find meaningful. Keep going until you find something that works for you.”The Joy of Creativity

“Being anxious, fearful, or worried is never a good thing, but it means you care. Caring makes you a bigger part of the solution than those who remain disinterested.”Combatting Climate Change Anxiety

“When we talk about differences amongst individuals, the focus is often on the challenges people face and the specific label which marks them as different. Not only is this degrading, but completely misses the point about how we as humans relate to one another.

If we turn the tables, there are so many positives to be found in difference. For example, those living with a disability are hugely resourceful and fantastic problem solvers because of the challenges they have had to learn to navigate in order to lead their lives.”Celebrating Diversity

“When you feel like you’re lacking confidence and everyone else appears self-assured, remember that everyone is feeling the same inside. Appearing confident and feeling confident are not the same thing.”Navigating Change

Despite being online, there is something distinctly different about the MMI Campfire Chats – they’re not just there to provide information but, as the above quotes show, to appeal to people on a real human level. Having recently moved into the RCVS communications team, I am no longer involved in organising the chats but still attend to take notes to share after the events. I even ended up chairing a couple of the sessions which is something I had never done before! I couldn’t imagine a more welcoming or rewarding environment in which to host an event for the first time. I was initially worried that, as a junior member of staff, I wouldn’t be senior enough to lead, but that’s part of what makes the campfire chats so brilliant – they’re for everyone as human beings, and that comes before any job title or self-imposed idea of status.

To come full circle, the Campfire Chats are all about pausing to share, learn, and grow together. This is something that is all too often forgotten in our busy hectic lives, but something that is essential in forging a collective sense of wellbeing. When we stop and listen for a while, it gives us the space to realise that we are all more similar than we might think. The Campfire Chats have proven that even when we haven’t been able to be together physically, we can always find common ground. Meaningful connection is a fundamental part of being human and speaking authentically about topics which impact each and every one of us, is something that will always unite us.