Lucy Irvine (right) & Erin Thomson (left), Co-Presidents, Glasgow University Veterinary Medical Association, 2016-2017
In February this year, the students of the University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine ran a new wellbeing campaign called ‘Feel Good February’. The aim was to encourage the staff and students of our vet school community to have a more positive feeling around campus.
We wanted to encourage everyone to be more open about how they were feeling by talking to their friends a little more honestly. How many times a day do you answer the question “How you doing?” with “Yeah, I’m fine thanks!” or “I’m good, you?” and are you actually okay, or is that just an automatic response?
The phrase “How you doing?” has become more of a greeting than a genuine question and, as a recent article published in the Veterinary Times reported, one we hear more than 10 times a day. Our idea was that if you could try to answer at least one of these times honestly, then it might help to take a little weight off your shoulders – after all, a problem shared is a problem halved!
We also want to encourage anyone who is struggling with their mental health to feel able to tell someone, be it a friend, family member, one of our Peer Supporters or a member of staff, and to recognise that the first step towards getting help needs to come from them. To help communicate these messages, we are using the hashtags #howyoudoing? and #Utakecareofyou.
We really wanted this campaign to be a whole student body effort, co-ordinated by us as Co-Presidents of our vet student society (GUVMA), but with input from as many representatives on our committee as possible. A special ‘thank you’ to our Peer Supporters and our Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) Chapter, who both rose to the occasion and ran various events throughout the month!
Prior to the start of our campaign, we sent out a survey asking questions such as:
- Do you regularly feel stressed at vet school?
- Do you think it’s normal to be stressed during a veterinary degree?
- Have you felt able to share your stresses or anxiety with a friend?
- What do you do to relieve stress at vet school?
- What encouraging message would you give to your fellow students who might be having a difficult time with stress/anxiety?
We received 314 responses from both vet students and vet bioscience students, which really opened our eyes to how things are at Glasgow. Some answers were shocking but there also were lots of lovely messages of support – we decided to use these throughout the month and so ‘Motivation Mondays’ were born.
Each week we sent an email out first thing on Monday morning with a different message in each one. During the first week we focused on speaking out if you’re struggling, and shared messages from the student body along this theme.
Week two focused on using sport and exercise as a way to relieve stress and we encouraged anyone who hadn’t tried it to give running or the gym a go, especially with our Free Feel Good Fitness Pass! We are privileged to call Laura Muir, final-year student and Double European Indoor Champion over 1500m and 3000m, our classmate here at Glasgow, and she said:
“Running during my vet studies has been such a huge help in coping with the stresses of keeping up with notes and studying for exams. Running allows you to think about things, clear your mind and you feel so much better afterwards, both mentally and physically. I find that exercising, despite taking some time out for it, makes me much more productive with my studies and I think I have performed better in my exams because I have taken part in sport. It also means you can have that extra piece of chocolate, too!”
Week three focused on a current final-year student who wanted to share her story with the earlier years, passing on advice on what helped her when she was struggling with mental illness earlier in her vet school career and letting them know that no matter how bad things seem, you can get through it.
For our fourth and final Motivation Monday we collated our favourite motivational messages received through the survey to round off the month on a high, and created a document to point anyone who is in need of help in the right direction, including where to go and what services are available to them.
Our other activities included:
- Cup of Tea Tuesdays, where free cups of tea/coffee and the opportunity for a chat were sponsored by a different student-led organisation each week
- Throwback Thursdays, organised by SAVMA and Peer Support, each week hosting a lunchtime talk with a different Glasgow Vet School clinician or lecturer telling us stories of their own vet school experience and the road which led them to Glasgow, including any struggles they faced along the way
- The Feel Good 5k Run which, despite soggy weather, had a great turnout and everyone really enjoyed themselves!
- The Feel Good February Fitness Pass – where the Garscube Sports Centre kindly offered two weeks’ free access to their gym and sports facilities, ran gym induction sessions and a one-off boxing-based ‘Feel Good Fighting Fit’ class, which was a great stress reliever!
- Peer Support pulled out all the stops hosting a Finding Dory Movie Night on campus, complete with popcorn and other movie treats, a De-Stress not Distress seminar and Massage Your Worries Away head and neck massages
- Our GUVMA Sports Reps organised a Feel Good February Dodgeball Tournament, which got most of our vet sports teams involved, as well as teams from all years and some staff too! What better stress relief is there? Well done to Men’s Rugby who came out on top!
- Freebie Friday was a huge success, with all of the first round of freebies gone within minutes! Vetlife, BVA, the Mind Matters Initiative, Vets4Pets and Burns Pet Nutrition Ltd all very kindly sent us bags and items to include in them. In addition, the Feel Good February logo, hand-drawn by our GUVMA Treasurer, Alison, was printed onto pens and t-shirts which, thanks to our wonderful sponsors, we were able to give out free to all participants of our Feel Good 5k and on our last Motivation Monday.
During the month, STV Glasgow came out to interview view us about the campaign and the ways in which we are trying to tackle student wellbeing at Glasgow. Professor Ian Ramsay was also interviewed about the profession as a whole, and the issues we are facing, mentioning a need to focus on prevention at the level of the student.
To round off the month, we put together a video that summarises some of the statistics from our survey and the events that we ran throughout the month, as well as some of the motivational messages from our students.
We hope that the initiative will become an annual event and Glasgow can continue to Feel Good in February, bringing staff and students in our community closer and reducing the stigma of talking about stress and anxiety at vet school: it’s okay not to be okay!
The University staff were a huge support for us while we were running this campaign and without them it wouldn’t have been possible.
Also, thank you so much to our sponsors and supporters, without whom we couldn’t have run the month: GUVMA, our Peer Support Group, SAVMA, The University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine, Vets4Pets & Companion Care, the Association of Veterinary Students (AVS), BVA, SPVS, MediVet, DMS Plus Ltd, Burns Pet Nutrition Ltd, Vetlife, the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative and Tunnocks.