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Mental Health Awareness Week: Mind Matters

BVA and Vetlife are supporters of the Mind Matters Initiative (MMI), which aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing of those in the veterinary team, including students, veterinary nurses, veterinary surgeons and practice managers.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme is stress. If you are reading this, the chances are you are somewhat engaged with the concept of mental health, and are finding the time to read something online that interests you – taking a few minutes out of your busy day.

But as all of us who have struggled with stress and overwhelm will know, at those times it’s hard to take a few minutes to say hello to your partner or chat with a colleague over coffee, let alone read a blog online. Instead, your world seems to close down into a tunnel, with the list of things overwhelming you looming larger than anything else.

Defining stress?

Sometimes it’s even hard to define the cause of a rising feeling of stress, because once some of the symptoms kick-in – for example, starting to lose clarity of thought and the time to reflect – then that ability calmly to sit down and work out what is causing the problem and how to address it can also recede.

Stress can often be work related, but not always. The irony is that the same things that can cause members of the veterinary team to feel under pressure are the same things that can also bring joy and job satisfaction. They are often two sides of the same coin.

“I find work stressful because I have no control over what’s coming through the door; sometimes dealing with people can be difficult; working with animals in pain can be upsetting; my hours are crazy,” might be you on a day when things are getting on top of you.

“The variety is great; working with people is really satisfying; I love helping animals in need, even if that means euthanasia is the best option; and those really challenging out-of-hours cases are the ones that you learn from and remember,” might be you on a good day.

Same work. Different mindset

Everyone is different and your ability to deal with what work throws your way will vary day by day depending on all sorts of circumstances, such as your general health, what’s happening at home, even, literally, the day of the week.

But there are evidence-based interventions that can be help address those aspects of the workplace that we can control, to give us all a better chance of dealing with the things we can’t.

Mind Matters

Mind Matters, working with Dr Elinor O’Connor from the University of Manchester’s Alliance Business School, has produced a free Guide to Improving Wellbeing and Managing Work Stress, which you can download from the Mind Matters website.

In it you will find helpful guidance on measures that you and your team can look at to reduce stress, such as improved communication, ways of building better relationships both within the practice and allowing time for social networks to grow, how to support lone workers, work-life balance, on-call working, developing control at work and taking charge of your personal development.

The areas for intervention are backed by Elinor’s research and form a really useful starting point for conversations within the workplace about what can be changed.

Of course these are conversations that will take time, and changes won’t happen overnight. If you are feeling overwhelmed right now, there are some practical sources of help such as the Vetlife Helpline.

But if we can make some constructive changes to the environments in which we all work, then the positive and rewarding aspects of veterinary work will be given chance to breathe. 

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