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Supporting each other

12 May 2022 | James Russell


60% of vets think they'd be able to recognise the signs of mental ill health in a colleague. In this blog, BVA Senior Vice President James Russell considers what more the profession can do to encourage meaningful conversations about feelings to help support each other.

Supporting each other Image

“Yeah, I’m fine thanks.”

We say it so quickly, before the “how are you?” is even vocalised, so often it is just as much a part of our etiquette as mentioning that it is good weather for ducks or saying “bye” to each other repeatedly on the phone.

Do we know anything more about the person we are talking to after “yeah, I’m fine thanks”? I’d say we know that they are both able to hear us, and that they are able to speak. We may, if we are well attuned, have sussed out whether they come from Sheffield, Manchester, Hassocks or Whitstable. As for anything that will reassure us that they are “OK”, I’m not so sure.

A recent BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey revealed that 60% of vets would be able to recognise the signs of mental ill health in a colleague. I would like to make a prediction. The prediction is that within that 60% there would be a disproportionate number of people who don’t stop at that point. People who take the “yeah, I’m fine thanks” and turn it into a conversation.

Meaningful conversations

It may not always be appropriate to have a meaningful conversation about how someone is feeling, in which case, a gentle “are you sure you are OK?” might be all you can do. If you feel you know the person well enough, then maybe it could become a “how are your children managing through their SATs week? I can imagine it must be hard work for you?” or “How was that meeting with your solicitor? I can imagine that it might have been a difficult one to approach?” So, where do we draw a line with being intrusive? It’s tricky. The answer will be different for everybody, and on different days for the same person. It’s OK to back track though – “I do understand that you don’t want this conversation, I just wanted you to know that I care.”

Other ways to share how you’re feeling

I’ve taken to pushing the conversation back of late – not every time, but if it feels appropriate, instead of a “yeah, I’m OK,” I give a score for the day. Today, for example, has been a solid 8, but yesterday struggled to get above a 3. What these numbers mean is irrelevant, but they usually give people a smile and, I hope, allow them to know a bit more about me than “OK.”

I would also argue it is OK to be clumsy with this. While you find your way of asking, and your way of disclosing, be confident that the people you are with are so much more likely to value the effort, than criticise the performance.

My thoughts on this are just that, my thoughts. I would love to hear about how others both enquire and share their feelings with others. How we do this matters much less to me than improving on the 60% of us who can recognise a friend, family member or colleague whose insides are screaming out to say more than “OK”.


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