We all have mental health: Vetlife

Posted on August 21, 2017 by Geoff Little

Vetlife logoA number of years ago I was asked by Veterinary Benevolent Fund, as we were called back then, to facilitate a strategy day to help them plan for the succeeding 5 years. I had been aware of the VBF, but wasn’t until then, very familiar with what they did. 

A couple of years later I stood as a Trustee and was elected to serve on the Board. After a short time as Treasurer, I was elected as President a year ago last July.

This year we witnessed a number of new trustees coming onto the Board, and will be having another strategy day this September to ensure Vetlife is fully focused on its vision namely ‘A UK veterinary community with high levels of physical and mental wellbeing'.

What does Vetlife do?

Quite simply, our mission is ‘to support members of the UK veterinary community and their families who have emotional, health or financial concerns, whilst seeking ways to prevent such situations in the future’. Everything we do has to have that as the guide.

This year sees the 25th anniversary of our Helpline service: Vetlife itself is much older. Having a Silver Anniversary is a very special occasion, providing Vetlife with the opportunity to mark 25 years of helping our profession, which we will be doing at this years’ London Vet Show. This will be a great opportunity to tell people about what we do and we hope to see you there.

What has been the biggest success of Vetlife during the past 25 years?

I believe our biggest success can be measured in the number of individuals, families and practices that we have helped over those 25 years. And that’s just the length of time Helpline has been in operation. The charity will have helped many, many more over a much, much longer period. Because of the strict confidentiality surrounding what our volunteers do, my guess is that we will never fully know or understand what differences we have made to peoples’ lives. I do know from the feedback we receive, we make a big difference; something we are very proud of.

I think our rebranding says it all. Vetlife, our aim being to offer people back their lives, in terms of quality. Donald Rumsfeld said:

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know".

I do know that too many are still unaware of our existence or the full extent of what we do. I would like people to know that we are independent, we are non-judgemental, we are good listeners, we are not there to advise but we may be able to help steer if asked to do so. Our fully trained volunteers have a wealth of experience in communicating with distressed individuals and we have the wherewithal to provide practical help when that is requested.

If people would like to know more, I would encourage them to look at our website, sign up to receive our e-newsletter or visit us at a veterinary congress.

What advice would you have for someone who might be in personal/financial difficulties?

We are often described as, or see ourselves as ‘A’ type people; individuals who are very capable, self sufficient and high achievers. Things shouldn’t go wrong with us in charge and we should be able to cope with whatever life or clients, or indeed bosses or colleagues throw at us. But life isn’t like that, and when things are perceived as going wrong we tend to blame ourselves and internalise matters. We are very bad at admitting we can’t cope, very bad at seeking outside help. I believe that the significant increase in the number of contacts Helpline receives is partially due to the anonymity of email, sadly partially due to the stress of practice life, but also due to the fact that it is increasingly ok to talk about mental health issues.

As was pointed out to me at a Vetlife training day, “we all have mental health”. Just like physical health, sometimes that health is good, but sometimes it’s not great. With some individuals the bad periods far outweigh the good ones and it’s good to know that there is somebody from Vetlife Helpline there 24/7 to listen.

What do you see in the future for Vetlife?

Sadly, I see no slow down in the call on our services. Helpline is getting busier and busier each month, with the majority of contacts now coming in as emails. Every year we recruit more Helpline volunteers to cope with those calls. Personally I also look forward to welcoming more Regional Representatives, those individuals who provide face-to-face help.

I see the need for continued internal training, to ensure the charity is meeting its obligations.

Running a charity has its challenges, but we have fantastic, dedicated volunteers, backed by a small, remunerated team. The ever present challenge is ‘balancing the books’ in terms of ensuring there is enough money coming in to support those in need. We need to encourage those whose employees benefit from Vetlife services to support us financially.

How can someone support Vetlife?

All charities require funding; the VDS, BVA and the RCVS are very generous to Vetlife as are individual practices and members of our profession. Practices and individuals can donate money to Vetlife and many do; individuals can provide a legacy; you can become a Vetlife member for as little as £50 a year or a lifelong member for a one off donation of £250. Personally I think the term member is misleading as it implies some benefit that non-members don’t have. This is true when it comes to attending or being able to vote at our AGM, or if you wish to stand as a trustee, but it certainly is not the case when it comes to being one of those we help. The charity exists to support the UK veterinary community in general.   

You can also give time. Everything, from simply increasing awareness of the charity to volunteering as a Regional Representative or Helpline Volunteer, or putting yourself forward for election as a Trustee on the board. Individuals, practices and organisations also generously give up their time to take part in fundraising events and challenges varying from bake sales and charity auctions to marathons and tough mudders, all to raise money for Vetlife.

Please see our website Vetlife for further information on becoming more involved, email us or give us a call on 02079086385.

Geoff Little

Written by Geoff Little

President of Vetlife

Geoff is no longer in practice and has experience as a Communications Training Associate with the VDS and as a Veterinary Business Advisor with Anval. He is also a SPVS Educational Trustee, and a former President of SPVS. He joined VetLife as acting Honorary Treasurer before accepting the Board’s invitation to become President in July 2016.