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Mental Health Awareness Week: From one vet to another

Senior Clinician for the Vetlife Health Support team Darren Humphrey discusses the support Vetlife can offer the veterinary profession as part of our Mental Health Awareness Week blog series.

Early days

I was first introduced to the idea of working with the Veterinary profession about 18 months ago by my colleague Professor Neil Greenberg. We had arranged to have coffee in Southsea in between one of his busy clinics. I was a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy at the time, and had no idea then that this meeting would result in me being where I am today.

When I tell people that I work with Vets in supporting their mental health, the immediate assumption is that I mean Military Veterans. I then must explain that I work with members of the veterinary profession, including nurses, admin staff and vets, it is often received with a mixture of surprise and disbelief.

Know your audience

I admit that my perception of a life in the veterinary profession was one of adorable puppies and kittens, of super surgeons performing miracle procedures, or the James Herriot (I am showing my age) romantic image of a mixed animal practice and rolling fields. My exposure to the profession prior to working for Vetlife Health Support (VHS) was very limited. I once dated a veterinary nurse when I was 17 and ended up assisting in a gastric torsion of an Alsatian (I held the bucket), but that was as close as I had ever got to seeing things from the other side.

Working with VHS has given me a greater appreciation of the demands faced by those who work or have worked within the Veterinary profession. From the financial pressures of running a business and meeting clinical targets, to the newly qualified vet on call. The pressures of exams, and the exacting standards of others and themselves. Striving for perfection, whilst facing extremes of human emotion. From sadness, to anger and back again all within a mornings surgery.

Job satisfaction

I have found it incredibly rewarding working with VHS, and by the very nature of the self-referral system our patients are motivated and driven to get well. They are courageous in taking that first step and often are juggling their difficulties whilst remaining at work. It gives an enormous sense of pride to assist people in their recovery, and to play a part in that. Success is not measured by the number of people seen or indeed how quickly, for me it is knowing I have made a positive impact on someone’s life.

Peer support

Since being introduced to the Vetlife team, I have been overwhelmed by the professionalism and dedication of its staff and volunteers. The work that goes into providing the level of service available to Vetlife’s beneficiaries is truly incredible and would not be possible without the generosity and dedication of those who give their time freely to support their peers. We have worked closely with Vetlife staff to ensure that the administrative processes are in place, and that beneficiaries have efficient access to mental health support.

Reducing stigma of mental health

Promotion of mental health, and the treatment of mental illness has always been a passion of mine, and over the last 18 years I have seen considerable progress in both. Significant efforts have been made to reduce stigma associated with mental illness and we are seeing a greater willingness of people to talk about and promote the importance of good mental health.

There is a long way to go, and more can be done to encourage individuals to access support. When we launched the new VHS service in April of last year it was a challenging time, desperately trying to meet the demand of referrals, whilst getting to understand the dynamics of the profession. I feel very proud of what we have achieved, and I am grateful for the opportunity to provide mental health support to such a deserving profession.


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