Susan Dawson

World Mental Health Day 2020: Reflections on the last five years

Susan Dawson, Mind Matters Initiative Chair

Today marks world Mental Health Day, with a theme of ‘mental health for all’. It presents an opportune moment to reflect on the last five years of the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative, and to look ahead at what’s next for us. MMI recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, and although we weren’t able to hold the planned celebration due to the pandemic, we held a webinar hosted by The Webinar Vet to celebrate the milestone and look back on some of our achievements.

Since its launch in 2015, one of the core activities of MMI has been raising awareness of mental health in the professions, giving people the tools to stay well, seek help and look after themselves and others. Our Mental Health Awareness training is central to this, with over 1700 vets, vet nurses and practice staff attending our sessions over the last five years. We’ve also teamed up with the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), whose generous support has allowed us to deliver both mental health awareness training, and a series of successful resilience training sessions, equipping delegates with the tools to successful navigate the challenges of veterinary practice.

With support from experts from inside the veterinary community and beyond, we’ve delivered an array of webinars on a wide number of topics relating to mental health and wellbeing, including mindfulness, sleep, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, self-harm, anxiety, and managing remotely during Covid-19. Following feedback from the professions we’ve got plans for further webinars addressing topics like neurodiversity and men’s mental health.

Working with and for students is a vital part of what MMI does. We want to make sure that our veterinary and veterinary nursing students are well supported, and that they have the skills and resilience to thrive as they move into practice. MMI regularly sponsors student-led  activities and research, like the recent study into exercise and wellbeing carried out by students at Nottingham University. We also sponsor students to run the ever-popular Failure Friday events – where they can hear about the less successful moments of more experienced members of the profession, and learn that everybody makes mistakes – it’s how we learn and move on from them that counts.

Last year we ran our first ever student roundtable, which was a fantastic opportunity for veterinary schools and students to come together and learn from each other about what works in student support, and where there are still gaps. This year we will be replicating this event for student nurses – although it will need to be held online due to the ongoing coronavirus situation. We’ve also been delighted to support VetKind, a facilitated online space run in collaboration with the Association of Veterinary Students (AVS) and Jenny Moffett of SkillsTree, where students can learn about and reflect on mental health and wellbeing.

Since our launch we have hosted two successful veterinary mental health research symposiums which have provided opportunities for us to learn from the existing evidence base and think about where there remain gaps to be filled. We have also committed to making an annual research grant in memory of RCVS Council member Sarah Brown, who sadly died in 2017. This year we made not one, but two grants totalling £40,000, which will be looking at moral injury and racism respectively –  both timely and important topics for the professions.

Right now is a difficult time for the professions, with the pandemic creating challenges for all of us and affecting everything about how we live, work and socialise. Now, more than ever, it’s so important to look after ourselves and each other. Over the last six months we’ve delivered a number of webinars on topics relating to Covid-19 and have also published a comprehensive A-Z of Help providing tips and resources that will be useful during the pandemic. With many of us working remotely, isolation can be a problem and so have introduced online ‘Reflection Time’ sessions, providing a space for members of the veterinary community to come together and reflect on different topics relating to the emotional aspects of their job. As the pandemic continues, with things remaining uncertain, we’ll be looking at more ways we can support the veterinary community.

Today, to mark World Mental Health Day, I’m delighted to share an animation we have developed in collaboration with British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), which addresses mental health and wellbeing among equine vets. We are also publishing a new &Me story from vet James Glass, who has generously shared his experiences with us. Keep an eye on our Twitter page, where we’ll be using today to highlight some of our resources and achievements.


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