Tag Archive for: mental health

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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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Could you become a Mental Health First Aid Champion?

This January, we are offering veterinary professionals the chance to become Mental Health First Aid Champions, by subsidising a training course led by Mental Health First Aid England.

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

We will be running two sessions. The first will take place on Tuesday 9 January 2024 and the second on Thursday 11 January 2024. Both will take place online from 9am – 5pm, cost £40 per person, and are open to all those working in the veterinary professions.

Advancement of the Professions and Mind Matters Director, Angharad Belcher, said: “We have been working alongside Mental Health First Aid for a couple of years now to provide subsidised training for the veterinary professions and have received fantastic feedback.

“This day long training session will help people to gain an understanding of what mental health is and how to challenge stigma, to gain the knowledge and confidence to advocate or mental health awareness, provide them with the ability to spot the signs of mental ill health and the skills to support positive wellbeing, as well as give people the confidence to support someone who is in distress or may be experiencing a mental health issue.

“While these sessions are open to all working in the veterinary professions, we are particularly encouraging vets working in rural areas or in ambulatory work to get involved. All veterinary work has its challenges, but we know from MMI funded research conducted by Scotland’s Rural College that rural and ambulatory veterinary work comes with its own set of challenges which is often compounded by working alone or having relatively limited contact with colleagues. Those working in rural areas often play integral roles within their local communities and it is therefore important to provide people with the skills to not only look after their own mental health, but with the opportunities to learn how to best support their friends and colleagues too.”

For more information on the Mental Health First Aid Champion training course, and to book your place, visit our training page. Spaces are limited, so we suggest booking early 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.

Graphic of a a log fire on a green MMI background

Gather round for our latest series of Campfire Chats

We are delighted to announce the return of our Campfire Chats this winter. Once again, we are inviting veterinary professionals to come together to engage in informal panel discussions on matters related to veterinary mental health and wellbeing.

Back by popular demand, the chats, which were first introduced back in 2021, are now returning for a fifth series and will offer all those working within the veterinary professions a chance to pause, reflect, and learn from each other’s experiences.

The first session in the series, ‘Self-care through Winter’, will take place online on Wednesday 13 December from 7pm – 8pm. It is open to all members of the veterinary professions including veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses, students, practice managers, receptionists and everyone else who works in the field of animal health.

Advancement of the Professions and Mind Matters Director, Angharad Belcher, said: “We are really looking forward to bringing back our Campfire Chats, which offer a safe space for the veterinary community to come together for informal discussions on some of the issues impacting mental health and wellbeing.

“We have a brilliant panel lined up for the first session of the series and are keen to get as many people involved in the discussion as possible – however, if you simply want to grab a cup of tea and listen in to the discussion, you are absolutely welcome to do so.

“We are excited to announce that this year, all sessions will be recorded, so if you are unable to attend the chat on the night, you will be able to listen back to the panel session afterwards via the MMI website. However, the Q and A section of the chat will not be recorded as we are keen to make sure that attendees feel as comfortable as possible in sharing their thoughts and feelings, should they wish. Our Campfire Chats offer a safe space for all, to reflect, connect and decompress – just like sitting and chatting around a real campfire. We look forward to welcoming as many of you as possible.”

For more information on the ‘Self-care through Winter’ Campfire Chat, and to book your place, please visit our events page, where you can find a link to the dedicated Eventbrite page.

Our next Campfire Chat, ‘Managing Anxiety 101’, is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 24 January 2024, from 7pm – 8pm. The Eventbrite registration link for this will be available via our events page in due course.

Please note that the Campfire Chat sessions are informal in nature and intended to provide an outlet to discuss key topics related to mental health and do not replace proper professional or clinical information, advice or guidance. 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.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 - hand extended to sitting person illustration

Anti-Bullying Week 2023

The theme of this year’s Anti-Bullying Week is ‘Make a noise about bullying’.

Incivility in all its forms, including bullying and harassment, can have a significant impact on working lives, particularly on an individual’s performance, mental health and wellbeing. To support Anti-Bullying week we have provided some useful information and resources below.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons through its Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) is committed to raising awareness of the impact of Incivility and promoting the importance of dignity and respect at work, through its resources, campaigns and training. Bullying and harassment has no place in education, the workplace or the professions, and by working together we can do more to promote civility and inclusive organisational cultures.

The Anti-Bullying Alliance (2023) defines Bullying as ‘the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. Bullying can be physical, verbal or psychological. It can happen face-to-face or online’. 

If you are experiencing or have witnessed bullying in the workplace, there is help and support available. Depending on your circumstances, you might find it helpful to; 

  • Talk informally to a trusted friend or colleague,  
  • Discuss informally with your manager or a member of your HR/People team, 
  • Seek out independent advice and guidance e.g. via Vetlife, Employee Assistance Programme, ACAS or Citizens Advice on how to support yourself or others, 
  • Consider raising a formal concern or complaint through your workplace processes, 
  • Report inappropriate behaviour or cyberbullying on social media sites and forums 

Does your organisation have a bullying and harassment policy? 

It is good practice for all organisations to have clear bullying and harassment policies and procedures in place, that are reviewed regularly, readily available to employees and act on concerns or complaints raised fairly and quickly by an appropriate person. If you don’t know if your organisation has a policy, reach out to your HR/People team to ask. 

Did you know? 

According to a 2021 Mind Matters Initiative wellbeing survey of student and recently graduated veterinary nurses, 96% of respondents agreed that bullying and incivility was a serious problem in the profession. This stark figure highlights how important it is that we work towards developing culturally safe working environments and become more active bystanders to challenge, disrupt and report inappropriate and harmful behaviour, when and wherever it occurs.  The student veterinary nurse wellbeing survey was the first of its kind and you can read the full report at SVN-wellbing-discussion-forum-2021-report.pdf (vetmindmatters.org) 

Useful reads and resources 

There are a range of useful services and resources you can access if you are being bullied, harassed or facing other forms of incivility in the workplace. 

Vetlife is available 24/7 to listen and offer a safe, non-judgemental space for you to explore your options. Call 0303 040 2551

Samaritans – 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. Call 116 123.

BVA Article Why behaviour matters: Civility Saves Lives (bva.co.uk) 

RCVS Knowledge Good practice culture – great job satisfaction – RCVS Knowledge 

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAD) gives employees and employers free, impartial advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice.   What bullying is – Bullying at work – Acas 

Citizens Advice offers free and confidential advice on various topics If you’re being harassed or bullied at work – Citizens Advice 

Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) provide a range of useful factsheets Bullying & Harassment at Work | Factsheets | CIPD 

VetLed have some fantastic free resources which have been created in collaboration with Civility Saves Lives. You can download these resources via their website

MMI Research Symposium graphic

Veterinary mental health researchers gather for Fourth MMI Symposium

On Tuesday 10 October, we held our fourth biennial mental health research symposium at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.

The event 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 opened with a welcome from Dr Kate Richards MRCVS, Chair of the Mind Matters Initiative. Kate provided the background to MMI before laying out the proceedings for the day which began with a talk from keynote speaker Dr Leah Quinlivan, Research Fellow and Chartered Psychologist at the University of Manchester, who presented on ‘Evidence-based care for people who have self-harmed: risk prediction, psychosocial assessments, and aftercare.’

RCVS CEO and MMI founder Lizzie Lockett then introduced the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant, which has been awarded for five consecutive years. The grant was first set up in honour of former RCVS Council member and veterinary mental health advocate Sarah Brown, who took her own life in 2017. Lizzie highlighted Sarah’s brilliant work and thanked Sarah’s family for their ongoing support of the grant. She then went on to formally present the grant to this year’s recipients, Dr Jackie Hargreaves and Dr Faye Didymus, researchers from Leeds Beckett University, who will be running the last of six research projects funded in Sarah’s name. Their research project will be taking a deep dive into whether there is adequate mental health education in the student veterinary nursing curriculum.

The five previous Sarah Brown Research Grant recipients were then each invited to the stage to provide updates on their research projects. These were:

  • Dr Kate Lamont: How Farm Vets Cope: A summary of the project funded by the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant (Year 1), including ‘take home’ messages and post-project activity;
  • Dr Victoria Williamson: Experiences and impact of moral injury on UK veterinary professional wellbeing;
  • Dr Navaratnam Partheeban: Solutions that could make a difference to the impact of racism on Black and Minority Ethnic People working and studying in the UK veterinary profession;
  • Dr Kirstie Pickles: Autistic veterinary surgeons in the United Kingdom: Workplace stressors and mental wellbeing; and,
  • Dr Katherine Wakelin and Sarah Corthorne: An online compassionate imagery intervention to improve psychological wellbeing for veterinarians: A randomised control trial.

The proceedings then paused for lunch and networking, before talks recommenced in the afternoon. These talks took a quick-fire approach, with each researcher having 15 minutes to present their work. 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, who oversees the work of the Mind Matters Initiative.

Angharad then took to the stage to talk about the work of MMI, including its newly published 5-year strategy and evaluation documents. Within her talk she shared her thoughts on the day, stating: “I’ve really enjoyed hearing from everybody who has shared their research and I love the part where everybody goes out and starts engaging in discussion and thinking about what might be, and where this can all take us. What solutions we might be able to find. What different strategies we might be able to employ. But most of all it’s about the shared desire to raise awareness of mental health and to address stigma and discrimination.”

MMI Chair, Dr Kate Richards presenting at the MMI Research Symposium 2023
MMI Chair, Dr Kate Richards

Dr Kate Richards then provided closing remarks for the day, stating: “What a day. I’m just so honoured to be the MMI Chair and really humbled by the passion, the commitment and generosity demonstrated by everybody throughout today.

“Today has been about a vast variety of topics with presenters from veterinary backgrounds, veterinary nurse backgrounds, medical science backgrounds and social science backgrounds. I think the power and the huge synergies from cross disciplinary working is a real motivator for me. Just to see everybody in the room sharing and collaborating, learning from one another, I think, is extremely powerful.”

A breakdown of the day, including talks abstracts and speaker bios, is available to access in our resources section. Videos of the day and a full report will be available to view in due course.

If you’re currently struggling with your mental health, Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551. The Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123.

MMI Research Symposium graphic

Early bird tickets available for Mind Matters Symposium

With just over a month to go until our biennial Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) Mental Health Research Symposium, there are still early bird tickets available at a reduced rate ahead of the event.

Coinciding with World Mental Health Day, the MMI Symposium will take place at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on Tuesday 10 October and bring together veterinary mental health researchers from across the UK and Europe to share their work. This includes former Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant recipients, who will share project progress updates.

The plenary will be delivered by Dr Leah Quinlivan, a research fellow and chartered psychologist at the University of Manchester. Her talk ‘Evidence-based care for people who have self-harmed: risk prediction, psychosocial assessments, and aftercare’, will outline the importance of improving mental health services for patients who have harmed themselves, via discussion of evidence, policy, and practice for risk prediction, psychosocial assessment, and aftercare.

In addition to presentations from the Sarah Brown Grant recipients and Dr Quinlivan, attendees will have the opportunity to hear from a variety of international veterinary mental health research experts on an array of topics ranging from the impacts of euthanasia on veterinary professionals, to the impact of Covid-19 on veterinary mental wellbeing in Europe.

RCVS Director for Advancement of the Professions, Angharad Belcher, said: “The Mind Matters Symposium is such an important event in the RCVS calendar as it highlights just how much progress is being made and how committed professionals both within and outside of the veterinary professions are when it comes to improving veterinary mental health.

“We know that those working in the veterinary professions are more at risk of developing mental health issues than the general population, so it is of vital importance that we do all we can to support people where we can, and research plays a key role in this.

“This is our first in-person symposium since before the pandemic, so we are keen to get as many people involved as possible. We welcome all members of the veterinary team, those who are curious about mental health in the veterinary context, those early on in their careers, experienced researchers, and everyone in between.

“Our early bird tickets are available for £45 until 11 September 2023, whereafter they will be available at our general admission price of £60. It’s also worth noting that we do have a limited number of free tickets available for those who wish to attend but do not have the means to do so. This includes students, people with lived experience of mental health problems, and people who are unwaged. If you fall into this category and are interested in attending, please do get in touch.” For more information about the Mind Matters Research Symposium and to book your place, please visit our Symposium 2023 page. Those wishing to apply for a free ticket should contact the MMI team directly on info@vetmindmatters.org.

MMI Research Symposium graphic

Mental health symposium to showcase groundbreaking international research

The Mind Matters Initiative’s (MMI) fourth Mental Health Research Symposium will take place in Manchester this autumn.

At the event, presentations will be delivered by veterinary mental health researchers from across the UK and Europe, including those whose projects have been funded by MMI’s Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grants. The symposium, which has been designed to be inclusive and welcoming to all, takes place at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on Tuesday 10 October. Tickets cost £45 per person although the event is free for students, people with lived experience of mental health problems, and people who are unwaged, who would not otherwise be able to attend.

The symposium will be launched by the plenary speaker Dr Leah Quinlivan, a research fellow and chartered psychologist at the University of Manchester. Her talk ‘Evidence-based care for people who have self-harmed: risk prediction, psychosocial assessments, and aftercare’, will outline the importance of improving mental health services for patients who have harmed themselves, via discussion of evidence, policy, and practice for risk prediction, psychosocial assessment, and aftercare.

Dr Leah Quinlivan
Dr Leah Quinlivan

Dr Quinlivan’s talk will be followed by presentations from recipients of the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant. This annual £20,000 grant was launched in 2019 in memory of RCVS Council member Sarah Brown and has since funded a diverse range of research projects including into the wellbeing of farm vets, how racism and discrimination impact veterinary mental health, the effects of moral injury, and how to make reasonable adjustments for autistic veterinary professionals. The recipient of this year’s Sarah Brown grant will also be presented with their award at the symposium.

In the afternoon of the event there will be a number of talks from people already working in veterinary mental health research on topics including post-Covid wellbeing amongst veterinary professionals, the impact of companion animal euthanasia, workplace stressors and how they change with career stage, and the quality of mental health support received by veterinary nurses. Full details of the symposium, including abstracts and speaker biographies, will be published in due course.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative project manager, said: “This year it is great to get back to having an in-person MMI symposium. I am proud that we have created an inclusive and welcoming event, featuring leading national and international researcher on veterinary mental health and wellbeing, as well as those who are at the beginning of their research career. This year, the event promises once more to be a supportive and thought-provoking event, where we can gather to share findings, information and best practice for the good of the professions.

“The recent publication of MMI’s five-year strategy has outlined our recognition that we need to expand the conversation beyond mental health awareness and into looking at more systemic and cultural issues, as well as exploring how the insights gained from research might be implemented in practice. These ambitious aims are reflected in the breadth of the talks and presentations at the symposium and so I look forward to hearing more from those who share our values and aims, and to continuing the conversation about how and where we can do more.

“The symposium is very much open to all members of the veterinary team including vets, vet nurses, practice managers and academics. Previous feedback we’ve received from attendees has been uniformly positive, citing the insight of the researchers, the important discussions that have taken place about the research and the ability to network and talk to others with a passion for veterinary mental health and wellbeing. Finally, we are grateful to veterinary mental health researcher and Vetlife helpline manager Dr Rosie Allister MRCVS, for her continued support with the curation of the research programme”

Further information about the event, including registration details and a link to the symposium’s Eventbrite page, can be found in the Events section of our website.

Sarah Brown Grant graphic

Mind Matters reminds veterinary mental health researchers of upcoming funding and knowledge exchange opportunities

MMI is reminding veterinary mental health researchers of opportunities to participate in two key research initiatives, which aim to support the development of mental health research within the veterinary field.

The first of the initiatives is the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant – a £20,000 grant which was set up in memory of vet, RCVS Council member and mental health campaigner Sarah Brown in 2019, to fund research into veterinary mental health. MMI is inviting researchers at all career stages to apply for the grant and any applications relevant to veterinary mental health are welcome. The application deadline has now been extended to 5pm on Thursday 15 June.

The second initiative is the biennial Mind Matters Mental Health Research Symposium, taking place this autumn in Manchester. MMI are calling on UK and international researchers working in the field of veterinary mental health and wellbeing to submit abstracts of up to 250 words in order to share their research at the Symposium. Researchers can choose to either give a 15-minute presentation on the day, or to present a poster which will be displayed at the venue for people to view throughout the lunch break. Again, researchers from all backgrounds and career stages are encouraged to apply, and projects can be based around any area of mental health and wellbeing within the veterinary professions. The abstract submission deadline for this has also been extended, to Thursday 1 June.

Mind Matters Manager, Lisa Quigley, said “Mental health research is of critical importance and forms a significant part of our work at MMI.

“Since our inception, we have seen substantial growth in the number of veterinary mental health research projects coming to fruition and are proud to be supporting researchers in any way we can.

“Our Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant is now entering it’s fifth year and it has been really rewarding to see the impact that these projects have had, both in theory and practice. Past topics have included neurodiversity, moral injury and racism, to name a few, and we look forward to funding more important research this coming year.

“Our symposium is of equal importance and brings together veterinary researchers from across the globe to share their work. The winner of our 2023 Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant will also receive their award at the symposium, and previous winners will also be in attendance to present their research. The symposium offers a fantastic opportunity to showcase all the vital work currently taking place in the veterinary mental health research field, and we strongly encourage anybody working on a relevant project to get involved.”

For more information on the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant and how to apply, visit our MMI Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant page.

For further information on the Mind Matters Mental Health Research Symposium and how to submit and abstract, visit our MMI Symposium page.

Dealing with those Winter Blues

Kate Richards – RCVS President 2021-22

In this blog RCVS Senior Vice-President and Chair of the Mind Matters Initiative Dr Kate Richards MRCVS writes about how best to conquer the Winter Blues. 

For some the phrase ‘Winter Blues’ may conjure up memories of Dr Feelgood and The Animals, for others it describes their feelings at this time of year.

It’s important to acknowledge it is perfectly normal to feel a bit down just now with the lack of sunlight, chill and post-festive slump. This combination can leave us low, tired and sapped of energy and motivation.

This year we have another stress due to financial challenges and uncertainty for the year ahead as well as professional pressures arising from pandemic pet purchases, the lingering impact of Covid and the workforce challenges across the sector.

However, there are a variety of things you can do to help yourself, and it is something the Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) is promoting to all members of the veterinary team. Have a look at our Working Through Winter webpage to find out more.  

Sustaining our emotional and mental health enables us to manage what life throws at us, both personally and professionally, and helps prevent anxiety and depression. The work of the MMI extends to veterinary students as it is vital to embed this awareness and knowledge of resources in our undergraduates.

The MMI team visited each of the veterinary schools in Freshers /Welcome Week to talk about the resources available through MMI and answer questions about the project. At the school I visited, I gave the MMI talk on a Sunday afternoon, followed by final years telling the group about the various societies they could join. ‘I wish I’d known about Mind Matters when I was in first year,’ a final year student whispered to me afterwards.

Launching this year are a number of MMI courses and webinars on Sustaining Emotional Health, Psychological Safety and Civility Training and Mental Health First Aid with newly developed sessions on Rural Mental Health First Aid coming soon. You can find out more about the Mind Matters training programme on our dedicated webpage. 

Remember, these resources are available to all the veterinary team, including vet nurses and students. Please have a browse through the resources which include a Neurodiversity Hub, webinars and videos from research symposia.

Over to You

It does not have to be a webinar, a course, a conference or a book, little things can make a big difference. Take one step at a time to keep it manageable for you.

  • Being at a low ebb in winter is perfectly natural and accepting this is helpful.
  • Social interactions help us feel connected and supported.
  • Feel fresh air on your skin, get outside for even a walk around the block, car park, field. I find this really helps me if I can get outside first thing.
  • Keep moving in whatever way feels good for you.
  • If you are worried about finances there are plenty of free resources out there, for example, the Citizens Advice Bureau.
  • Eat what makes you feel good. A healthy balanced diet will increase mood, energy and motivation.
  • Accepting that shift work happens, think about sleep hygiene. Is there more you can do to help a better night’s sleep?
  • Focus on the positive, being grateful and doing something for someone else can be incredibly powerful.

Interested in Mental Health Research?

If so, MMI is now accepting applications for the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grants are now open for the fifth year running. The Grant was founded in 2019, in memory of RCVS Council member Sarah Brown who passed away in 2017, and this year we will once more be awarding a £20,000 grant to those who are conducting all important research into veterinary mental health and wellbeing.

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.

Graphic illustration of workplace activity with VN Futures and MMI logos

Report released with highlights and key outcomes from the recent Student Veterinary Wellbeing Discussion Forum

Today (19 January) the Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) and VN Futures have released a report which details the key discussions from their recent Student Veterinary Nurse (SVN) Wellbeing Discussion Forum and what next steps the profession needs to take to improve the mental wellbeing of student and recently qualified vet nurses.

The event was organised following the results of an MMI survey of 650 student veterinary nurses, recently qualified veterinary nurses and clinical coaches which revealed that the overwhelming majority of the people surveyed felt that bullying and incivility were serious problems in the profession. The Discussion Forum’s programme was structured around the survey results, which revealed four key areas that were impacting the mental wellbeing of the profession. These four key areas were:

  • Incivility and bullying – The MMI survey results revealed that 96% of respondents felt like incivility and bullying were a problem within the vet nursing profession. The survey also indicated that many of the accounts of bullying were instances of people in senior positions acting poorly towards people in more junior roles.
  • Juggling demands – Many people said the demands of their work were affecting their wellbeing, and some revealed they didn’t even have time to eat or use the toilet when they were at work. 81% said that they found their job stressful.
  • Disability and chronic illness – One in three respondents identified as having a disability or chronic illness and one in five identified as neurodiverse. The survey revealed that respondents with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses were often made to feel like a burden, especially when requesting to shield during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Awareness, recognition and pride – 70% of respondents said that they felt they had chosen the right career and that they were passionate about looking after the animals committed to their care. However, there were recurring issues with the role that came through in the results of the survey, including low pay and lack of respect from the public and vets.

The Discussion Forum was attended by people from across all areas of veterinary nursing, including current students, clinical coaches, recently graduated vet nurses and employers. Throughout the day, attendees heard talks from:

  • Mind Matters Initiative Manager, Lisa Quigley, who confirmed that vet nursing and student mental wellbeing would be crucial streams in the MMI 2022 – 2027 strategy.
  • Dr Claire Hodgson MRCVS, co-founder of the British Veterinary Chronic Illness Support (BVCIS) organisation, and Alexandra Taylor RVN, current President of the BVNA, who outlined the challenges people with disabilities and chronic illnesses face and what the veterinary profession can do to support their staff.
  • Dr Simon Fleming, an NHS Trauma and Orthopaedic Registrar, explained the impact that bullying can have on the person being bullied and those who witness it. He also outlined what an effective intervention looks like and what the steps taken before formal disciplinary action should be.
  • Jane Davidson, RVN, discussed how to set healthy boundaries and the extent that these, and time management practises, can be applied in a vet nursing role.
  • Jill Macdonald, RVN and VN Futures Lead and Dr Laura Woodward MRCVS, a veterinary surgeon and psychotherapeutic counsellor, explored what pride means and how employers and the wider profession can encourage pride in vet nursing.

Attendees were then invited to join breakout discussion sessions, where they had opportunities to openly discuss their experiences and how they felt the profession could improve the mental wellbeing of vet nurses. The key outcomes from those discussions were:

  • More needed to be done to make it clear that the MMI is for the whole veterinary profession, not just vet surgeons.
  • There needed to be additional resources and training to educate employers and the wider veterinary professions about the legal rights for people with a chronic illness and/or disability in the workplace and their expectations in terms of reasonable adjustments.
  • Training needed to be given to help people understand how to address bullying in the workplace and that this should be given as early as their initial veterinary training.
  • Some students said they would not feel comfortable challenging a senior member of staff and said that they would benefit from having training in how to address the behaviour of someone in a senior position.
  • There needed to be a change in the culture around taking breaks and that staff should be actively encouraged to switch off during their break times.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager, said; “We’re really pleased that so many people attended our Wellbeing Forum and engaged with the discussion sessions. Throughout the discussions, some people shared difficult and personal experiences and we want to thank everyone for being so open and for being respectful to those who shared their stories. Student and veterinary nurse wellbeing will be key components of the 2022- 2027 MMI strategy, which we will be launching this spring. The forum discussions, survey results and feedback from the student vet nursing community will be incorporated into the survey and guide the resources, research and support we work on to help improve the mental wellbeing of the profession.”

Jill Macdonald, VN Futures Project Lead commented: “I want to thank all the attendees and speakers who gave up their time so they could join us at the Discussion Forum to share their expertise and lived experience. It was incredibly helpful to get multiple perspectives throughout the day on these issues. A key component of the VN Futures Project is safeguarding the future of the veterinary nursing profession and ensuring that vet nurses have fulfilling careers with opportunities for progression. The feedback we received during the Forum’s discussion sessions and the survey will help us form the actions we take to help improve the profession for current and future vet nurses, through MMI, the VN Futures project and the RCVS’s work with the VN community.”

The full report of the Student Veterinary Nurse Wellbeing Discussion Forum can be found here vetmindmatters.org/SVN-report/