Tag Archive for: wellbeing

BSAVA Congress 2024 logo

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.

lesser heard voices logo

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.

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

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.

Sarah Brown Grant graphic

Mind Matters awards funding to project exploring SVN mental health education

The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) has awarded £20,000 to a research project taking a deep dive into whether there is adequate mental health education in the student veterinary nursing curriculum.

The funding comes from the MMI Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant which was founded in 2019 in memory of RCVS Council Member Sarah Brown, who passed away in 2017. The grant has since been awarded on a yearly basis to fund research into the mental health and wellbeing of those working within the veterinary professions.

Past projects have funded research into a number of areas, including: the mental health impacts of racism; moral injury; farm veterinarian mental health; an investigation into workplace stressors for autistic veterinarians; and the effectiveness of online compassionate imagery intervention.

This year’s grant has been awarded to Dr Faye Didymus (pictured right, top) and Dr Jackie Hargreaves (pictured right, bottom) from Leeds Beckett University who aim to address potential lack of understanding surrounding the importance of mental health education in the learning paths of student veterinary nurses. This will be done through a scoping review of mental health education during student veterinary nursing curricula. The review will be supplemented by interviews with tutors, veterinary nurse students and qualified veterinary nurses to understand their experiences of and levels of exposure to mental health education. It is hoped this research will culminate in a set of evidence-based recommendations for how mental health education for student veterinary nurses could be enhanced.

On being told their proposal had been awarded the grant, Dr Faye Didymus said: “Being awarded the Sarah Brown Research Grant offers a fantastic opportunity for us and for the future of veterinary nursing. We hope that our research will have a real impact on the mental health of those working in the veterinary nursing profession.”

“Maintaining good mental health is vital for job satisfaction, retention, and performance, and integrating mental health education into veterinary nursing courses is one way that veterinary nurse mental health can be supported, as it allows people to develop essential skills that will benefit their lives beyond education.”

“However, little is known about what mental health education is provided across veterinary nursing diplomas and degrees or if there is a consistent approach. Throughout the research, we aim to build a clearer picture of the current provision, so we can create evidence-based recommendations for the optimisation of veterinary nursing education.”

Mind Matters Initiative Manager, Lisa Quigley, said: “This year marks the final year of the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grants, and I would like to thank Sarah’s family for their blessing to run the grant and for their ongoing support. We have funded six projects over the past five years which we hope will help Sarah’s legacy and passion for improving mental health and wellbeing within the professions live on.

“I would also like to thank our panel of judges for their support. We have chosen a very deserving project and I look forward to seeing the outcome of their research and the impact it will have on the professions in the years to come.

“Much of the research into veterinary mental health has so far been centred around veterinary surgeons so we were keen to fund a veterinary nurse focussed project to help close that knowledge gap. The veterinary field encompasses the entire veterinary team, and we cannot afford to overlook a group that makes up much of the working veterinary population and who are vital for the functioning of the sector. It is essential that we support our veterinary nurses throughout their careers and provide them with the knowledge and tools to look after their own mental wellbeing from the outset.

“Research plays a major role in this, and we are delighted to be funding a fully nurse-based project.”

Dr Faye Didymus and Dr Jackie Hargreaves will be awarded the Sarah Brown Grant at the Mind Matters Mental Health Research Symposium at the Midland Hotel in Manchester on Tuesday 10 October. Tickets and more information about the symposium are available on our dedicated symposium page.

The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative: the next five years. Illustration of a lady sitting in rain with an umbrella that has the sun emerging from clouds within it.

Mind Matters reflects on progress and future with publication of new reports

The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) has, this week, released two key publications – an Evaluation Report outlining its progress and impact since its inception almost a decade ago, and its new Five-Year Strategy announcing the project’s plans and future direction.

Launched in December 2014, MMI was set up by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) to help improve and support the mental health and wellbeing of those in the veterinary team, including students, veterinary nurses, veterinary surgeons and practice managers.

The Evaluation Report reflects on the story of MMI so far, looking at some of the key projects established under its three main workstreams: prevent, protect, and support. The report includes case studies outlining the key challenges and problems that MMI has sought to address, what was done to address them, the impact made, and how lessons learned from each of those projects will be used to shape the future of MMI.

The second publication, the Mind Matters Strategy, was developed alongside the evaluation, and presents an overview of MMI’s plans for the next five years, taking stock of MMI’s achievements so far, and looking ahead to new areas of focus that build on current successes while learning from the challenges faced in previous years. The Strategy summarises key objectives, and how these fit into the existing MMI prevent, protect and support workstreams.

Mind Matters Manager, Lisa Quigley, said: “MMI has achieved so much over the past eight years, but none of it would have been possible without the support and collaborative efforts of other organisations who share our values and intent.

“Improving and supporting the mental health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals requires effective communication and input from across the board – there is no quick fix, and we must work together to keep the conversation going.

“Our past projects have allowed us to connect with so many people from across the professions and we are all ultimately working towards the same goal. Our evaluation report aims to encapsulate just how far we’ve come and the impact we have managed to have since our inception, but also to highlight what lessons can be taken forward into the future.

“Our five-year strategy is ambitious, but without that ambition, we wouldn’t have been able to get to where we are today. The veterinary landscape, and indeed, the mental health and societal landscapes, have evolved considerably over the past few years and will continue to do so. We have achieved a lot, but there is always room for improvement, and it is important that we remain agile and adaptable to change, while continuing to listen to those with lived experience of the issues we seek to address.

“I would like to personally thank everyone who has been involved in our various projects up until now and who has helped to guide our progress, in particular the members of the MMI Taskforce and everyone who contributed to our consultation. Mind Matters is for you, our veterinary professionals, and I hope you will continue to engage with our work in the years to come, so we can continue to grow and evolve to support as many people to thrive as possible.”

To view the Mind Matters 5 Year Strategy ‘The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative: The next 5 years’, and the Evaluation ‘The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative: The story so far…’ visit our resource page at https://vetmindmatters.org/resources/.

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.

Graphic illustration of workplace activity with VN Futures and MMI logos

Mind Matters and VN Futures expand training collaboration

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) and VN Futures project are expanding their training collaboration to include self-compassion and anxiety workshops.

MMI and VN Futures have a long-standing working relationship and their common aims have seen them work together in a number of different capacities over the past few years. This has included undertaking joint research into the wellbeing and mental health of veterinary nurses, running an online student wellbeing discussion forum and, as part of their recent training collaboration, coming together to expand the reach of MMI’s civility and psychological safety training sessions.

The newest addition to the training collaboration includes a number of new evidence-based workshops on anxiety and self-compassion.  

Mind Matters Initiative Manager, Lisa Quigley, said: “We know that working in the veterinary professions is challenging and evidence shows that veterinary professionals are at higher risk of suffering from common mental health problems such as anxiety and burnout than that of the general population.

“Using insights gathered from previous joint VN Futures and MMI ventures, we are proud to be expanding our training collaboration to provide targeted support which has the capacity to actively make a tangible difference to the professions.

“When it comes to mental health, wellbeing, and the curation of positive workplace cultures, there is no quick fix – it takes time and dedication from all involved. We are grateful for the support of VN Futures as we work together to help create this positive shift.”

Jill Macdonald, VN Futures Project Lead, said: “At VN Futures, we aim to ensure that veterinary nursing is a vibrant, rewarding and sustainable profession and supporting mental health and wellbeing is a vital part of this. Veterinary nurses are an essential part of the veterinary team and creating workplaces where the entire team is able to thrive and feel valued and respected is of utmost importance. Working with MMI to expand the reach of the civility and psychological safety training sessions has proven effective in promoting this concept.

“Like our civility and psychological safety training, our new anxiety and self-compassion workshops are open to everyone in the veterinary team and are designed to provide people with the skills needed to create long lasting, sustainable positive change.

“We hope delegates will find the sessions useful and will apply the skills they have learned to support themselves and those around them both now and in the future.”

Initial training dates are as listed below and will take place in person (sessions cost £15 per person):

For more training sessions, including the joint MMI and VN Futures Civility and Psychological Safety training sessions, visit our training page.

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 of a a log fire on a green MMI background

Letting Go of Perfect

Working hard and doing your best is never a bad thing. However, consistently setting unrealistic standards for yourself and constantly striving for perfection can have a hugely damaging effect on your self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. This, in turn, leads to an increased vulnerability to developing certain psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression.

In this Campfire Chat, we discussed why so many of us feel the need to achieve perfection, why it’s important for us to try and stop being so hard on ourselves, and the ways in which we can start letting go of perfect.

Key discussion points in the Campfire Chat included:

How would you define perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a personality trait that everyone has to some degree. Just like people can be more or less neurotic, people can be more or less perfectionistic. There are two core features of perfectionism:

  1. Setting overly high standards
  2. Being hugely self-critical

What are some perfectionistic traits and tendencies?

  1. Engaging in all or nothing thinking i.e., if I don’t achieve this really high standard that I’ve set for myself, then I have failed.
  2. Self-criticism – people who are high on perfectionism are very self-critical and chase after impossible standards which means they always fall short. High levels of perfectionism can be linked to having a greater risk of developing other mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
  3. A need to validate who you are through your accomplishments.
  4. Are concerned or have negative thoughts towards imperfection.

How can we recognise perfectionistic traits and tendencies in ourselves and others?

Generally, people are good at recognising perfectionism in themselves and others. However, when this isn’t the case, it is necessary to look at three things:

  1. How perfectionistic are your goals?
  2. Why are you aiming for them?
  3. How do you feel when you fall short?

People with high levels of perfectionism often have low self-esteem, as they rely on their achievements to give them value. When a perfectionist sets goals which are often unachievable, this can be very damaging for their self-esteem as they will always fall short of their own expectations.

People are multifactorial and levels of perfectionism vary from person to person. For example, new graduates may often feel anxious if they don’t match up to the idea of what they think they are meant to be.

Finding perspective can be difficult, particularly for the younger veterinary community. It’s difficult to be perfect in an ambiguous world – there is a gap between education and work. At school you know you have to learn a certain thing in order to gain a certain grade, whereas inevitably in the world of work you are more likely to suffer setbacks. It’s much less predictable.

Perfectionism can sometimes be associated with conscientiousness. However, doing your best isn’t a bad thing – it is the constant self-criticism that can cause damage.

Why do so many people feel the need to be perfect?

Perfection is the ideal that we have been presented with on a societal level – it is sometimes encouraged and even rewarded by society and can be considered a necessity to work at the highest level.

Perfectionism isn’t specific to any one group of people – however it can be exacerbated by certain environments i.e. peers, education, workplace, upbringing etc. In the veterinary sector, there is a certain pressure in that society holds vets to a particular standard i.e. they should love animals, should look and carry themselves in a certain way etc. Vet students then often use these expectations as barometers for what makes a good vet.

These societal expectations can become inextricably linked to how people see themselves which is inevitably damaging. In the campfire chat, panellist Fabian Rivers (a.k.a. DreadyVet) spoke about the fact that he has highlighted his dreadlocks as a part of who he is on social media and beyond – in his words, being known as DreadyVet shows how ‘he can still create value without being reduced down to his ethnicity’.

Vets are often stereotyped, and we all have a responsibility to humanise people working in the veterinary community.

How does perfectionism impact mental health?

Perfectionism isn’t a clinical disorder – it’s a characteristic. However, as you become more perfectionistic, this can lead you to become vulnerable to mental ill health.

There are recognised risk factors for high levels of perfectionism including for eating disorders, anxiety, and suicide. However, this is not to say that perfectionism causes any of these things as all mental health conditions are multifactorial. Excessive self-criticism, however, can often be indicative of mental health issues.

How can you support people who are perfectionists?

If you are worried about your mental health or the mental health of someone else, you should always consult a mental health professional. However, if you’re not experiencing a mental illness but would like to improve your perfectionism, there are lots of psychoeducational resources available. Talking to others about it can also help inform the way you think about yourself and others.

How can it impact our relationships?

Not only do perfectionists expect perfection from themselves, but from those around them too. This can lead to a lack of empathy, hostility, and an absence of social support. It creates a social disconnect as people deny themselves rich, rewarding, and supportive relationships.

It can also diminish trust as perfectionists always feel like nobody else will be able to meet their standards. This can easily cause fractured relationships as quite often, if someone is trying to be compassionate, a perfectionist may see this as interference and adding to the problem. This can become really damaging, especially when working in a high-pressured working environment, as when relationships start to break down, the repercussions can potentially be fatal.

Panellist Takeaways:

  1. We must all try to understand that whatever we are able to achieve is within our grasp and must be prepared to not achieve certain things that we have conceptualised. We grow when we are open to change. The learning process and benefits gained from our concerted efforts to achieve something is often more valuable than the result. Enjoy the process and don’t fixate on the goal.
  2. Perfectionism has few benefits and many costs both for you and for others. Having high standards isn’t a bad thing but you must enjoy your successes, your failures, and be proud of yourself.
  3. Talk about perfectionism and know you’re not alone in your feelings. If it starts to impact your mental health, talk to a mental health professional.

Further resources:

Books:

  • The Art of Being – Erich Fromm
  • Mans Search For Meaning – Frankl
  • The Art of Happiness – Tao Te Ching
  • Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world – Professor Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Perfectionism – Sarah J. Egan, Tracey D.Wade, Roz Shafron, Martin M. Antony
  • Overcoming Perfectionism: A Self-help Guide Using Cognitive Behaviour Techniques – Sarah Egan Wade
  • Freeing Our Families from Perfectionism – Thomas Greenspon

Academic papers (free to access articles from panellist Professor Andrew Hill):

https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/view/author_id/861.html

Animations on Perfectionism:


Further support:

If you’re currently struggling with your mental health, Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551. Or if you prefer, you can send them a confidential email.

The Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123 or send a confidential email to jo@samaritans.org.

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Mind Matters Initiative focuses on new wellbeing webinar series

We are pleased to announce a new series of webinars to be hosted by The Webinar Vet, focusing on how to increase wellbeing.

The first webinar takes place on Thursday 13 December at 1pm and will focus on the link between psychological wellbeing and regular outdoor exercise. The webinar will be hosted by Oli Glackin, the RCVS Leadership Initiative Manager who is also a consultant in the psychology of exercise, and Nat Scroggie MRCVS, a keen marathon runner who is known for her blog, ‘This Vet Runs’. The webinar is titled, ‘”I know it’ll be good for me tomorrow”: physical activity, the elixir that’s just around the corner’.

The webinar will explore what is commonly known about the positive relationship between physical activity and psychological wellbeing and mental health, including details of exercise ‘dose’ and intensity. It will also focus on changing the way we approach physical exercise, the sorts of motivators that work for us individually, the introduction of fun and pleasure into the regime of exercise, and will seek to help participants improve their own relationship with exercise.

Nat Scroggie will also be speaking personally about her own journey with exercise and how it has had a positive impact on her wellbeing.

She said: “It’s been an absolute honour to be involved in promoting well-being in the veterinary profession, and to share my own story. Exercise has been my biggest tool in managing my first few years in practice. It has been a relief from the day to day stresses, whilst also giving me a challenge and identity outside of my working life. I’m a pretty average runner, but I recently ran my first marathon, something I never ever thought I could do. It’s hard to explain how much confidence those 26.2 miles have given me in my working life, even if it seems like it’s nothing to do with finally nailing a bitch spay.

“Making time to do something that’s great for your body, and your mind, is allowing yourself the time to prioritise you. As veterinary professionals we are brilliant at caring for our clients and patients, but it’s amazing what we can achieve when we allow ourselves that same compassion.”

Sign up to take part in this webinar, which can also count towards a veterinary surgeon’s or veterinary nurse’s continuing professional development.

In January 2019, the RCVS’ MMI project will be holding a series of webinars on the evening of the ‘Pre-Congress Associates Day’ on Friday 18 January 2019, ahead of the Webinar Vet’s Virtual Congress from Saturday 19 to Sunday 20 January.

The webinar series focus on veterinary wellbeing and are as follows:

  • 7pm – 7.30pm: Qualified accountant and wellbeing advisor Jo Stevens will present ‘How to stay positive in a negative world’.
  • 7.30pm – 8pm: Positive psychologist and professional wellbeing coach will present ‘How thinking positively makes life easier’.
  • 8pm – 8.30pm: Leadership coach and trainer Anne-Marie Svendsen-Aylott will talk about ‘Understanding the concept of “mindset” – a key to finding a more positive outlook.’
  • 8.30pm – 9pm: Dr Sara Tai, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Manchester and Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, will be presenting ‘Living the life you want’.

Any member of the veterinary team is welcome to take part in the Webinar Vet Virtual Congress and the sessions being run by the RCVS. Visit the Virtual Congress website for more information, and to purchase tickets.

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Mind Matters to host International Virtual Congress session on mental health

We will be hosting a session on mental health as part of The Webinar Vet’s International Virtual Congress, on 19 January 2018 from 7pm to 9pm. This will be the third time that we have taken part in the International Virtual Congress and will see Stuart Reid, RCVS Council member and Chair of the MMI, chair a series of MMI-sponsored talks focusing on shame and blame, the ‘arrival fallacy’, and wellbeing in practice.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons launched Mind Matters to increase the accessibility and acceptance of mental health support, and encourage a culture that better equips individuals to talk about and deal with stress and related issues.

The session comprises three talks:

  • ‘The surprising truth behind genuinely living with passion and purpose,’ with Jenny Guyat, founder of Vet Harmony. This talk will review the research data on shame and vulnerability, and look at their impact on the veterinary professions.
  • ‘What’s your Ikigai? Overcoming the arrival fallacy and finding meaning in everyday life,’ with Jen Brandt, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Director of Member Wellness and Diversity Initiatives. In this webinar Jen will discuss how to identify and pursue values, rather than external goals.
  • ‘Happy you and happy team – change one thing and you could change your life’. In this webinar Rachel Duncan, co-director of 387 Veterinary Centre, will review some of the initiatives that helped make her practice one of the SPVS Wellbeing Award winners in 2017.

Lizzie Lockett, MMI Director, said: “These online congresses are a great way to reach the many members of the veterinary team. We hope that a wide range of people will be able to listen and benefit from the speakers’ practical advice on identifying areas for personal development that can have a positive impact on their own mental health and wellbeing as well as that of their colleagues.”

Register now for the stream on The Webinar Vet’s website.