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Mental Health Awareness Week: Working together to improve rural wellbeing in Scotland

15 May 2019 | Melissa Donald | Wellbeing


BVA Scottish Branch President, Melissa Donald, explores how Scottish Branch is working with stakeholders across Scotland to improve mental wellbeing across the country, both for vets and their rural clients.

Last year I was approached by Jim Hume, the convenor of the National Rural Mental Health Forum (NRMHF) and BVA Honorary Associate, to see if BVA Scotland were interested in joining this group of rural stakeholders working together to tackle mental health issues that affect rural people across Scotland.

Joining the National Rural Mental Health Forum

Jim explained his involvement in rural wellbeing stretched back to the foot and mouth outbreak when he saw first hand the effects on the farming community, the stresses and strains taking their toll. 

The forum started up with 16 members, including NFU Scotland, NHS, and Young Farmers but over the time we have been involved, this number has grown to over 60 organisations, including BVA Scotland.

We meet 3-4 times a year to share best practice and ideas to help the members of our respective organisations, be it staff training for those who work in isolation or signposting to other initiatives where there is help to be had.

Mental health and the veterinary profession

I felt that this organisation and its aims would chime well with BVA members on several levels. Firstly, we all know how mental health affects the veterinary profession. Secondly, the timeliness of the forum and our efforts to support those in the veterinary community through the Vetlife helpline and the Mind Matters Initiative just went in hand in hand.

Special relationship between vet and client

But it was more than that. Vets have a unique position in the farming community in that we have a special relationship with our rural clients allowing us to spot changes in their behaviour or practices that may be indicative of an issue affecting their wider wellbeing. For example, we know the level of care that is normal for each farmer to give to their animals and so if there is a deterioration in farm animal welfare this could indicate personal wellbeing issues affecting the client themselves. It is the local vet practice that is often the first to spot this. 

My old boss taught me this early on in my career. A client had had a visit from the SSPCA as the welfare of the cattle and sheep had been compromised. By speaking to my boss, it was soon realised that this was not normal for this particular farm. A chat between the vet and the SSPCA inspector, the problem became apparent. The farmer's wife had been terminally ill and with 2 young children to care for, it was all getting too much. No one was prosecuted, help was found for the farmer and the welfare of the stock improved.

Farmwell Scotland

Ultimately, recognising the deterioration in animal welfare on the farm was the signpost to the mental health issue. Farmwell Scotland, a new initiative where organisations from the agricultural sector have come together, have recognised this. They have developed useful posters to help vets and clients to be able to recognise and know where to turn to when things are difficult. If you have any concerns call the RSABI helpline on 0300 111 4166 or if you are worried about someone, then let them know about the Farmwell Scotland initiative.

Meanwhile the National Rural Mental Health Forum continues to meet up and share ideas to enable rural people to open up about their mental health and remove stigma, ensuring there is a solid evidence base for what works to improve people’s lives and to create ways to bring positive change through this network of organisations in Scotland.

If you wish to find out more, head to Rural Wellbeing, or if you’re worried about yourself or a colleague call Vetlife helpline 24/7 on 0303 040 2551.


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