We are today launching the Mind Matters Initiative, to help address mental health and wellbeing issues within the veterinary profession.
“Mental Health is a significant issue for the veterinary profession. Most of us have experience of colleagues or ourselves having problems. The Mind Matters Initiative is a pan-profession project, and I am very pleased that there is active engagement from across the various veterinary associations and stakeholders,” says Neil Smith, RCVS Vice-President and Chair of the Mind Matters Initiative.
“The RCVS already contributes through our Health Protocol and support of the Veterinary Benevolent Fund. The Mind Matters Initiative seeks to work more proactively by increasing the accessibility and acceptance of support, encouraging a culture that is better equipped to talk and deal with stress and related mental health issues, and, ultimately, by helping to reduce such triggers within the profession.”
It takes real courage to reach out for help when you’re struggling, and we know it can be especially tough for vets.
The first Mind Matters Initiative action is providing funding to ensure that callers to the Vet Helpline, a completely confidential support service which is part of the Veterinary Benevolent Fund and run by volunteers, are put directly through to a person, rather than having to leave a message.
“We are able to offer confidential, non-judgemental support to many vets, VNs, vet students and members of their families who call us in distress, but we know there are more who are put off by the prospect of leaving a message,” says Rosie Allister, Chair of Vet Helpline.
“It takes real courage to reach out for help when you’re struggling, and we know it can be especially tough for vets. Although we respond to calls quickly, callers need to speak to someone immediately, and not a message system, when they are in crisis.
“Through the Mind Matters Initiative funding we are able to put in place a service that connects a caller directly to a human being, which could make a real difference for people who call.”
The new Vet Helpline system will be in place on 22 December, in time for Christmas, which can be a difficult time for many people. The Vet Helpline number is 0303 040 2551 and there is also a confidential email service, accessible via vetlife.org.uk.
The Mind Matters Initiative will be sustained over an initial three-year period, and will include five streams of activity:
- Learning and understanding best practice – research within the veterinary profession, for example, into occupational stress factors; and among other related professions and private and public sector organisations that have successfully tackled similar issues
- Changing the culture – a programme of communications activities to help generate a positive environment for discussion, reduce stigma, increase awareness and the ability to identify risks, and encourage help-seeking behaviour
- Intervention: personal level – financial and other support for existing services, such as Vet Helpline and Veterinary Surgeons Health Support Programme, together with an investigation into what more may be required to support those in need
- Intervention: supporting the supporters – training and guidance for those who may be working or living with someone who needs assistance, in order to help supporters spot and understand signs of stress and mental illness, and help the person seek expert help
- Making changes – working closely with the joint RCVS/British Veterinary Association Vet Futures project to help identify aspects of how the profession is structured and run (from student to retirement) that exacerbate stress and mental health problems – and consider how they may be addressed
The Mind Matters Initiative is supported by a group comprising the Veterinary Benevolent Fund, the British Veterinary Association, the British Veterinary Nursing Association, the Veterinary Practice Management Association, the Veterinary Schools Council, the Veterinary Defence Society and the Association of Veterinary Students.