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Stress Awareness Month: Let’s talk about stress

April is Stress Awareness Month – and provides us with a good opportunity to discuss a topic that impacts many of us. Throughout April, we will be sharing a range of information and resources to raise awareness of stress, reduce stigma and dispel myths, to help support veterinary professions to thrive in their roles. This week we will shed light on what is meant by stress and burnout – two terms which are used interchangeably.  

What do we mean by stress? 

Throughout our lives at home and at work, we can all experience different types of stress, which the World Health Organization (WHO) notes ‘is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives’. In responding to stress, the human body releases a number of hormones to help us cope or act. Interested in learning more about the science behind stress? Find out what happens to your body when you’re stressed

Whilst there are often negative connotations associated with stress, the stress curve diagram from MindWell illustrates that some forms of stress can actually be good for us. In fact, optimal stress (also called ‘eustress’) can help us to be motivated and perform at our best. Particularly where we have the ability to rally the necessary resources and support, to cope with demands placed upon us (e.g. to get a task done by a deadline, or intently focus on something). However when we experience excessive demands (whether they be physical, financial, moral or emotional), and we are not able to deploy resources to respond to them, stress can adversely affect our behaviour, relationships, productivity and health.  

A prolonged state of stress where the body continuously activates relevant systems to respond to demands can lead to emotional, mental and physical exhaustion, often referred to as ‘burnout’, common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and physical illness such as heart disease and high blood pressure. The recent Burnout Report from Mental Health UK (2024, pp.9) identified the prevalence in the UK with ‘9 in 10 adults experienced high or extreme stress in the past year’. Find out more, including recommendations to prevent burnout in the Mental Health UK The Burnout Report.  

It’s important to remember that every individual is different and their experience of pressures and demands, the resources and support they have to cope, and what can tip them from optimal to negative stress, will vary (as shown in the Stress Curve Diagram).  

At our fourth MMI Research Symposium in 2023, Dr Rebecca Smith, a lecturer in Veterinary Professional Development at Harper and Keele Veterinary School, discussed the top 10 stressors identified by vets and vet nurses, and how these stressors varied with experience. The report and video are now available to view. 

We’ll be sharing more resources over the next few weeks, including more information on how to spot the signs of stress, how we can manage stress, and what we can do to support ourselves and others. 

Dr Faye Didymus and Dr Jackie Hargreaves

Student and Registered Veterinary Nurses wanted to support research project into SVN mental health education

Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant recipients, Dr Faye Didymus and Dr Jackie Hargreaves, are looking for student veterinary nurses (SVNs), registered veterinary nurses (RVNs), and those who deliver diploma-route and degree route veterinary nursing curricular, to help support them in their research project into SVN mental health education.

The project aims to explore how mental health and wellbeing is integrated into the learning paths of SVNs, and will culminate in a set of evidence-based recommendations for how mental health education for veterinary nursing students could be enhanced.

As such, Dr Didymus and Dr Hargreaves, from Leeds Beckett University, are running a webinar through MMI to discuss their research findings to date and to offer an opportunity for attendees to contribute to the design and development of the second phase of their research, which will be essential for achieving the main outcome of their research project.

Rapinder Newton, MMI Project Lead, said: “Our Sarah Brown Mental Health Research grant has helped to fund six projects looking into various aspects of veterinary mental wellbeing, but this is the first to look specifically into veterinary nurse mental health.

“This is of vital importance, as much of the current research is either targeted towards vets or the vet team as a whole, as opposed to being nurse specific. We must do more to ensure that the entire veterinary team feel supported in their work and have the tools to maintain good mental health.

“It is fantastic to see Dr Hargreaves and Dr Didymus looking into early interventions to support SVN mental health from the start of their careers. This kind of research is vital in making positive change for the future, so if you are a current SVN, RVN or help deliver veterinary nursing programmes, then please do get involved.”

The webinar will be taking place online via Zoom on Tuesday 23 April 2024, from 10.30 – 11.30am.

Anybody interested in finding out more and contributing to the research can sign up to the webinar via the dedicated Eventbrite page.

For more information about the grant recipients and the project, visit the RCVS website.

Join us for #UniMentalHealthDay2024: Let’s get talking about student mental health

Organised by Student Minds and the University Mental Health Advisory Network (UMHAN), #UniMentalHealthDay takes place on Thursday 14 March 2024. 

At the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and as part of our Mind Matters Initiative (MMI), we are committed to supporting all members of the veterinary community to thrive in their roles and to get the support they need. Students are the future of the veterinary professions, so working to help protect and support their mental health is a key part of what we do. 

“We are pleased to have undertaken a range of student focused activity recently, including; fully funding a MHFA Champion course for the Association of Veterinary Students, delivering university presentations and mental health training sessions, and supporting researchers at Leeds Beckett University to undertake a deep dive into mental health education for student veterinary nurses through our Sarah Brown Mental Health Research grant.” – Angharad Belcher, Director of the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative 

Student Mental Health Challenges  

Did you know that one in four students have a diagnosed mental health condition, and one in three students have poor mental wellbeing? (Student Minds, 2023) 

Moving away from home for the first time, undertaking exams and placements, navigating the cost-of-living crisis, and adapting to changing personal and professional relationships, can cause challenges for students.  

“#UniMentalHealthDay provides a positive platform to highlight the importance of student mental health in enabling students to thrive on their journey, and in particular signposting appropriate support that’s available, whether they need it right now or in the future. Within this blog, we have collated a range of useful information and support that’s available to students, including how to have a conversation about mental health, seeking help and supporting others.” – Dr Linda Prescott-Clements, RCVS Director of Education 

How to know when you may need support? 

It’s important to think about signs that may indicate that your mental wellbeing may be slipping, so that you can take steps to boost it.  Student Minds have a range of useful resources and questions that you might find helpful to ask yourself. 

Seeking Help  

Recent research by Student Minds (2023) found that one in four students would not know where to get mental health support at their university.  

Whilst talking about your mental health may seem daunting at times, there are many sources of free and accessible support out there for students, including services at universities, the NHS, Student Minds, Vetlife, Samaritans and many more. Check out the useful links and support section at the end of this blog. 

“I think being aware of the avenues for support before you feel you need them is paramount for maintaining good mental health at university. No one expects to have poor mental health so, knowing where you can reach out for help beforehand, such as BVNA’s Members Advisory Service, Vetlife, Samaritans, as well as facilities at your university, makes getting support a lot easier.  University is a great opportunity to practise getting a good work-life balance, so take part in self-enriching activities outside of your studies and look after yourself. As veterinary professionals, our work’s purpose is to care for others and, while learning how to take care of yourself is rewarding in its own right, it is also necessary for longevity in your career.” – Bronwyn Bailey SVN, British Veterinary Nursing Association Council (BVNA), & MMI Taskforce Member 

Starting a Conversation & Supporting Others 

If you are not quite sure how to start a conversation around mental health, Student Minds have provided a useful guide and Mind also have accessible resources. 

There is also a wide variety of training available that may support you to help others including the MHFA Champion and MHFA First Aid courses, and Student Minds’ own ‘Look after your Mate’ course.  

Useful Links and Support 

Student Minds have a great downloadable resource pack that you can use to promote #UniMentalHealthDay. You can download the pack by visiting the University Mental Health Day website

If you need help or support right now, there are a range of organisations out there to help you. 

General support: 

  • Contact your Local GP or call NHS 111 (England & Wales), or NHS 24 (Scotland on 08454 242424). 
  • Student Minds is the UK’s national charity for student mental health and since 2009, they have been championing the cause. Their vision: ‘No student should be held back by their mental health’. For more information, visit the Student Minds website. Student Minds also have a range of useful resources for LGBTQ+ students 
  • Student Space, run by Student Minds, also offers an accessible source of help and guidance, which includes what support may be available at your own University. For more information, visit the Student Space website.  
  • MIND have a specific section on student 
  • Vetlife have a bespoke page for students which you can access by visiting their website. You can also call their Helpline for free on 0303 040 2551. 
  • Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year. It provides a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them. You can also call them free on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Shout is a free, confidential, 24/7 text messaging support service for anyone who is struggling to cope. Text Shout to 85258 

University specific support: 

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MMI to focus on moral injury, OCD and PTSD at BSAVA Congress 2024

As part of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Congress 2024, taking place from 21 to 23 March 2024, at the Manchester Central Convention Complex, Manchester, we will be running two streams based around moral stress, moral injury and psychological safety, as well as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Our first stream, taking place on Thursday 21 March from 10:30 to 17:00, is being held as part of the Wellbeing Programme, and will be centred around moral stress, moral injury, and psychological safety. This will include a mix of sessions, such as an introductive talk on the concepts of moral stress and injury, an introduction to veterinary mental health charity Vetlife, and a panel discussion exploring the role of ethical conversations in supporting yourself and your colleagues to navigate challenging events and experiences.

The second stream will take place on Friday 22 March from 09:10 to 17:40 and will be centred around obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this time as part of the BSAVA Scientific Programme. In this stream, delegates will explore the science behind OCD and PTSD and their impacts. As well as specific informative talks, this stream also includes two panel discussions centring around lived experience and workplace support for both OCD and PTSD.

Speaking about our congress sessions, new MMI Lead, Rapinder Newton, said: “When it comes to MMI, it is important that our work centres around the science, and that we are able to provide evidence-based information which will help to have a positive impact on the mental wellbeing of the professions.

“For BSAVA Congress, we have chosen two very specific themes for each of our streams, which both link into our new strategy which was published towards the end of last year.

“Firstly, we know there is a problem within the professions when it comes to moral stress and injury as shown by one of the research projects funded by our Sarah Brown Mental Health research grant back in 2020. There are also a lot of conversations in general surrounding this topic at the moment, for example, with the ban on XL bullies and the potential impacts that this could be having on the professions.

“Secondly, again, as part of our strategy, we are aiming to go beyond simply addressing wellbeing and delve deeper into the impacts of mental illness on those working in the veterinary professions. We are aiming to raise awareness of mental health conditions by providing expert evidence-based information in order to remove the stigma which still, sadly, is often attached to this.

“By delving into the science behind OCD and PTSD and bringing in clinical experts to talk about these topics, as well as integrating the stories of those with lived experience, we hope to challenge people’s potential misconceptions and widen the conversations around mental health, to ultimately improve the experiences of those experiencing these conditions and to help strengthen the workforce as a whole.”

The Mind Matters 5-year Strategy can be accessed on our resource page. For more on the findings of the Sarah Brown Research Project into moral injury within the veterinary professions, a summary of the talk given by researcher Dr Victoria Williamson can be found in the write up of our Mind Matters Mental Health Research Symposium 2023 on our resource page, as well as a video of the talk.

If you are currently experiencing mental health challenges, there are many sources of support which you can reach out to: Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551, Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org. You can also contact your local GP or call NHS 111. If you are in crisis ring 999 or visit your local A&E department.

For more information on our activities at BSAVA, including a full break down of session times and locations, please visit the RCVS BSAVA Congress page.

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MMI releases Mind Matters Mental Health Symposium Report and videos

Today, 28 February 2024, we have released a report depicting the findings from the fourth Mind Matters Mental Health Research Symposium as well as videos of talks from the day.

The event, which took place on 10 October 2023 in Manchester, saw veterinary mental health researchers from across Europe come together to share their insights into a variety of areas of veterinary mental health including moral injury, suicide and suicide prevention, the impact of racism, veterinary nurse mental health, and workplace stressors for autistic veterinary professionals. There was a total of 77 attendees, including a mix of academic researchers and veterinary professionals.

The day was split into three main sections. The first portion of the day included a welcome address from Dr Kate Richards, Chair of the Mind Matters Initiative, followed by the keynote and plenary address from Dr Leah Quinlivan on ‘Evidence-based care for people who have self-harmed: risk prediction, psychosocial assessments and aftercare.’

The second portion of the day included talks from previous recipients of the Mind Matters Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant, which was first set up in honour of former RCVS Council member and veterinary mental health advocate Sarah Brown. These research talks, which included research into topics spanning from the impact of racism on the mental health of veterinary professionals, to the impact of moral injury on UK veterinary professional wellbeing, were introduced by RCVS CEO and Mind Matters founder Lizzie Lockett.

After lunch, attention turned to quick fire research talks, where researchers from across the field of veterinary mental health research each had 15 minutes to take to the stage to present their projects. These talks provided insight into a range of important topics and included presentations from seasoned academics as well as those just starting out in their careers. These sessions were chaired by Angharad Belcher, Director for the Advancement of the Professions and of the Mind Matters Initiative.

To close the day, Angharad then took to the stage to talk about the work of MMI, including its newly published 5-year strategy and evaluation documents, before MMI Chair Dr Kate Richards closed the day’s proceedings with an outgoing address.

Angharad said: “The fourth Mind Matters Mental Health Research Symposium was a massively inspiring and insightful day. The field of veterinary mental health research is still relatively small so it remains of utmost importance that we continue to band together to share our knowledge on this subject, so that we can continue to learn and grow together and put these important learnings into practice.

“For us, it is vital that these new groundbreaking research projects are made available to all who want to learn more about helping to improve the mental health and wellbeing of those working within the veterinary professions. There is some truly fantastic work going on which provides us with hope that we can all continue to work together towards a brighter future.”

“For us, it is vital that these new groundbreaking research projects are made available to all who want to learn more about helping to improve the mental health and wellbeing of those working within the veterinary professions. There is some truly fantastic work going on which provides us with hope that we can all continue to work together towards a brighter future.

“There is no doubt that there is a long way to go, but improvement starts with education and research so I would urge anybody who is interested in what is being done to help improve and support the mental health of those working within the veterinary professions, and who is keen to help us keep these vital conversations going, to have a look through the report or access videos of the talks. It was a truly inspiring day with a lot of key takeaways.”

Anybody wishing to access the report or videos from the day can do so by visiting our resource page.

 If you are currently experiencing mental health challenges, there are many sources of support which you can reach out to: Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551, Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org. You can also contact your local GP or call NHS 111. If you are in crisis ring 999 or visit your local A&E department.

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Join our online ‘Mind Yourself’ training programme

Join us for our new online ‘Mind Yourself’ training programme, designed to help individuals to improve and protect their mental health.

The three-part online virtual programme – open to all members of the veterinary professions including veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses, students, receptionists, and practice managers – will be delivered by award winning mental health training charity Two Roads Charity. Sessions will be taking place on Zoom for three consecutive Mondays in April (Monday 8 April, Monday 15 April, and Monday 22 April) from 16:00 to 16:50pm.

Thanks to MMI subsidies, the entire programme costs £15 per person or £50 for a bulk practice purchase for four people.

MMI Lead, Rapinder Newton, said: “Being mentally healthy is a lot more than simply the absence of mental illness. The ‘Mind Yourself’ programme from Two Roads is designed to help people move towards flourishing mental health so that they can lead happier lives and have the emotional resilience for when things go wrong.  

“Beginning with building understanding of mental health, the latter parts of the programme will help nudge individuals into incorporating mentally healthy practices into their lives and to build their emotional resilience.

“The programme is open to all members of the veterinary team and spaces are available on a first come first served basis so, if you would like to attend, I would urge you to book as early as possible to avoid disappointment.”

For more information on the Two Roads Charity training programme, and to book your place, visit the Mind Matters training page.

If you are currently experiencing mental health challenges, there are many sources of support which you can reach out to: Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551, Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org. You can also contact your local GP or call NHS 111. If you are in crisis ring 999 or visit your local A&E department.

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Become a Mental Health First Aider with Mind Matters

This March, we’re offering veterinary professionals the opportunity to become Mental Health First Aiders, by providing in-person training in Nottingham.

The course, which will allow delegates to gain their Mental Health First Aid qualification, will be partially subsidised by us and led by Mental Health First Aid England who offer expert guidance and training to support mental health in the workplace and beyond.

The in-person two-day course will be running from Thursday 7 March to Friday 8 March 2024 at Antenna, Nottingham, at a cost of £80 per person. The course is open to all members of the veterinary professions, including veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses, students, receptionists and practice managers.

Advancement of the Professions and Mind Matters Director, Angharad Belcher, said: “At MMI, we really believe in creating a thriving veterinary community which not only provides people with help and guidance to look after their own mental health, but also allows them to develop an understanding of how they can best support their fellow colleagues too. Those who complete the Mental Health First Aid course will learn how to spot signs of poor mental health in others, how to successfully signpost to appropriate support, and teach people how to confidently start conversations around mental health.

“Having worked with Mental Health First Aid England in the past to provide these valuable training courses, we are really pleased to see the network of veterinary Mental Health First Aiders continue to grow, particularly in more rural areas where access to mental health support is often more difficult to come by. The aim is to create a ripple effect, whereby Mental Health First Aiders within the veterinary community can then support others to feel confident in speaking out about how they feel and to reach out for appropriate support if required.”

For more information on the Mental Health First Aid course, and to book your place, visit our training page. Spaces are offered on a first come first served basis, so be sure to book you space quickly to avoid disappointment.

If you are currently experiencing mental health challenges, there are many sources of support which you can reach out to: Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551, Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org. You can also contact your local GP or call NHS 111. If you are in crisis ring 999 or visit your local A&E department.

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