Making the most of your mental health toolbox in Scotland

Posted on July 19, 2019 by Kathleen Robertson

Being a vet or vet nurse can sometimes be hard. Not only is the job demanding, but we all have external pressures which affect us whether we recognise them or not. It can sometimes be really difficult to see the wood for the trees. Despite these pressures, over the past few years the profession has really stepped up to tackling the challenge of mental health and wellbeing. 

Mental health toolbox

We’re so fortunate as a profession that the RCVS and BVA initiated the Vet Futures project and that RCVS led the formation of the Mind Matters Initiative as there is now so much more available to support vets and nurse compared to when I qualified. In Scotland, and the UK more widely, we now have a range of support lines, networks and resources that we can really make the most of – for ourselves, our colleagues and even our clients.

But it’s so important that we spread the word that these services aren’t here just for times of crisis, but to support positive mental health and wellbeing on a day-to-day basis. I like to think of these support services as a toolbox we should all be dipping into regularly. So, what resources do we have in our mental health toolbox in Scotland?

Vet Support Scotland

The good news is that there’s a lot. And it’s growing all the time. I’m particularly excited about the recent launch of the Vet Support Scotland service.

When things aren’t right, or you are feeling overwhelmed, it can be isolating. Talking to family, friends, or colleagues about your feelings is a good place to start. However, you may also benefit from outside support from someone who understands what you’re going through. 

It may be making decisions about your career, maybe work life balance, maybe workplace disputes, maybe mental health, stress and just a feeling of not coping. This is exactly Vet Support Scotland listening and coaching service has been launched. Their stated aim is: ‘Listening, supporting and signposting’.

Based on the Vet Support NI launched in 2017, Vet Support Scotland is a non-emergency listening and support service for the profession, including vets, vet nurses and workplace support staff. It’s delivered by vets and nurses specifically trained to offer this service and who endeavour to respond within 24 hours. The service is confidential but not necessarily anonymous as follow up support is anticipated to be part of the service offered. 

Vetlife

Similarly to Vet Support Scotland, Vetlife also delivers support services for the veterinary community, by the veterinary community. Many of us are familiar with their excellent work, and it’s important to remember they are there for all sorts of issues not just the emergencies. They have volunteers from the profession available on their Helpline to talk things through 24/7/365, and can signpost you to the relevant help. Vetlife Helpline operates on a 100% confidential and anonymous basis.

In addition to the Helpline, Vetlife also provides Health and Financial Support. You can visit the Vetlife website to find out more about how it can support you, or if you'd like to talk you can call Vetlife Helpline on 0303 040 2551 or email via the website

The Mind Matters Initiative 

The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative has collated a great bank of resources to support mental health and wellbeing in the veterinary team.  They also provide mental health awareness training and are holding an MMI Research Symposium this September to discuss evidence that should underpin approaches to mental health and wellbeing in the profession. 

BVA free legal helpline

Don’t forget that if work disputes or anxieties are impacting on your mental health or wellbeing, BVA’s free legal helpline can be used to get impartial advice on work as well as personal matters. All you need is your BVA membership number to gain access.

Farmwell Scotland 

It’s also very relevant to consider all those we work with - as it’s not just our veterinary professional colleagues that may be struggling. We have a relationship with clients in which they often see us as confidantes and a trusting professional, and clients may often disclose or look for support, so it is important that we know how to signpost. Farmers and rural workers also have a very isolating job and can be working long hours with lack of sleep too.

In a recent blog post, BVA Scotland Senior Vice President, Melissa Donald, highlighted the great Farmwell Scotland initiative and National Rural Mental Health Forum, which exists to share best practice and successful models of support.

Farmwell has developed useful posters to help vets and clients to be able to recognise poor mental health and wellbeing, and know where to turn to when things are difficult. If you have any concerns call the RSABI helpline or if you are worried about someone, then let them know about the Farmwell Scotland initiative.

Making the most of support

All too often we can think that we are not affected by mental health or wellbeing issues or that the support services and resources are only there for when things get really bad. As a profession we’re working hard to make sure we have the support and tools we need to create a healthy, thriving profession. Let’s make sure we take care of ourselves and our colleagues by making the most of what’s out there. 

Kathleen Robertson

Written by Kathleen Robertson

BVA Scottish Branch President

Kathleen has been involved with BVA as a Scottish regional representative since 2010, prior to becoming BVA Scottish Branch President in 2019. Kathleen has held diverse positions spanning clinical practice, teaching, inspection and consultancy work. She sits on the Scottish Antimicrobial Stewardship Group, the Livestock Health Scotland Board and the Veterinary Delivery Landscape project and is an Honorary Secretary of the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons. Since 2012, she has been working as a locum in Morayshire and Inverness and as Secretary for Vet Trust, a Scottish CPD charity.