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Veterinary professionals are invited to gather round for our upcoming Mind Matters Campfire Chats

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Mind Matters Initiative is continuing its series of ‘Campfire Chats’ this autumn and winter, providing members of the professions with the opportunity to take part in informal discussions about some of the crucial issues affecting veterinary health and wellbeing.

The upcoming sessions are as follows:

  • Thursday 28 October 2021 at 7pm – Managing Mental Health and Menopause: with studies consistently showing that around 80% of those who go through the menopause experience negative physical and mental health effects, with around 30% of these being moderate-to-severe, this discussion will be an open and honest conversation about menopause, mental health and the professions. The panel comprises: Liz Barton, a SPVS board member and co-founder of WellVet and the Vet Mums Facebook group; RCVS Junior Vice-President Melissa Donald who last year wrote a blog dealing with some of the issues and taboos around menopause; and Nikki Ruedisueli, a veterinary nurse educator who is currently Head of Learning & Development at the BVNA.
  • Wednesday 17 November 2021 at 7pm – Combatting Climate Change Anxiety: it has become increasingly recognised that the physical dangers posed by the climate crisis is also having an impact on mental health, and so this session will focus on ways in which the professions can harness hope through positive action on climate and their connections with nature. The panel comprises: David Black, the Managing Director of the Paragon Veterinary Group and a Director of veterinary environmental group Vet Sustain; Alex Mullarkey, the founder of the Sustainable Vet Nurse Community and environmental campaigner; and Sue Stuart-Smith, a psychiatrist, psychotherapist and author of The Well Gardened Mind, a Sunday Times bestseller.
  • Monday 29 November 2021 at 7pm – Men’s Mental Health: with research from the Mental Health Foundation showing that, in England, around 1 in 8 men has a common mental health problem, this discussion will focus on overcoming barriers that may exist to men recognising and seeking help for mental health conditions. The panel comprises: James Russell, Senior Vice-President of the British Veterinary Association, and a Vetlife board member; James Glass, a vet who has had his own experiences of a severe depressive disorder and is now studying for an MSc in the psychology and neuroscience of mental health; and Calum McIntyre, a final year student at the Royal (Dick) Veterinary School and President of the Association of Veterinary Students.
  • Monday 13 December 2021 at 7pm – Working Through Winter: working through winter can be heard and bring a whole host of other challenges to the veterinary professions, so this chat will consider how the season affects veterinary mental health and what can be done to overcome the winter blues. The panel comprises: Mark Tabachnik, an equine vet based in Cheshire who also works as a professional development coach; Claire Gillvray, a medical psychotherapist and general practitioner whose passion is helping people gain mental strength through exercise, meditation, yoga and therapy; and Kate Stephen, an experienced qualitative social scientist and project manager.

Angharad Belcher, Director of the Mind Matters Initiative, said: “After our very successful first run of the Mind Matters Campfire Chats, we have a number of new session topics, which were requested by delegates earlier this year. As always, we will continue to host experts and those with lived experience at each Campfire Chat.”

As with the previous events, the Campfire Chats aren’t about being lectured at for an hour but are an opportunity to hear from those with lived experience, expertise and also for our audience to share their experiences, worries or life hacks. So please make sure to grab a mug of your favourite hot drink and join us.”

All the events are free, and members of the professions can sign up via the Mind Matters website at: www.vetmindmatters.org/events/ 

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Veterinary nursing students and recently qualified VNs invited to attend and take part in student mental wellbeing discussion forum

On 3 November 2021, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) will host a virtual Student Veterinary Nursing Wellbeing Discussion Forum, which student VNs, recently qualified RVNs and clinical coaches are encouraged to attend.

The event has been created following the results of a recent MMI survey of 650 newly qualified and student VNs, which found that bullying, incivility, stress and lack of mental health support were cited as issues that respondents had either witnessed or been affected by.

The event will take place on Zoom from 10:00am – 3:15pm and will offer the opportunity to discuss the key challenges highlighted in the survey responses and to explore the ways in which they can be addressed.

Key discussion topics will be opened by a short presentation offered by an experienced speaker. Attendants will then move into small discussion groups where they’ll be free to share their thoughts, experiences and ideas. The topics that will be discussed throughout the day are:

  • The Mind Matters Initiative and its roles
  • Incivility and Bullying – recognition and becoming an ally
  • Juggling Demands – balancing study, work, and personal life
  • Raising Awareness and Encouraging Pride in the Veterinary Nursing Profession
  • Disability and Chronic Illness – creating inclusive environments

Angharad Belcher, RCVS Director for Advancement of the Professions and Mind Matters Director, said: “Holding the Student Veterinary Nurse Wellbeing Discussion Forum is one of the first steps in talking through the survey findings and working collaboratively with the veterinary nursing profession to discuss potential solutions and actions we can take.

“Having a range of voices and experiences present throughout the day will be key to generating constructive and forward-thinking discussions. If you have an experience that you want to share or ideas for how the profession could better support the wellbeing of veterinary nurses, then I would encourage you to register for and attend the forum.”

Jill Macdonald RVN, VN Futures Project Coordinator, said: “We have put together a varied and engaging programme for the Forum, which we are sure will provoke thoughtful discussions throughout the day. As part of the programme, we have Angharad Belcher and Lisa Quigley from the Mind Matters Initiative giving an overview of MMI and the results of their recent survey, Dr Claire Hodgson MRCVS, Alexandra Taylor RVN and Jane Davidson RVN leading the session on disability and chronic illness, Simon Flemming, a Trauma and Orthopaedic registrar, who will be heading a talk on incivility and bullying and myself and Dr Laura Woodward MRCVS will lead a session on raising awareness and encouraging pride in the veterinary nursing profession. Jane Davidson RVN will also be taking the lead on another talk, where she’ll be discussing balancing study, work, and personal life.

“After each talk, there will be time to reflect on the topics in the facilitator-supported discussion groups, and we are very much looking forward to having the opportunity for student and registered veterinary nurses to help shape the future of wellbeing issues in their profession.”

Anyone interested in attending the Student Veterinary Nursing Wellbeing Discussion Forum can register on the Eventbrite page or email info@mindmatters.org to find out more information about the event.

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MMI focuses on inequality and mental health for World Mental Health Day

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Mind Matters mental health initiative is announcing a new training collaboration on how to champion equality ahead of this year’s World Mental Health Day (Sunday 10 October 2021).

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’, and considers how societal inequalities can feed into mental ill-health, the unequal provision of and access to mental health services and treatment, and how people with mental health conditions can face discrimination and injustice.

As part of the Mind Matters Initiative’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, it is today announcing a new ‘Championing Equality’ training course, for which it is collaborating with representatives from the British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society (BVEDS), the British Veterinary Chronic Illness Society (BVCIS), Vetlife, and the British Veterinary LGBTQ+ Society.

The course will run throughout 2022 with each of the above groups contributing to the development and delivery of the course, including providing case studies on how inequality, stigma and discrimination can impact mental health.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager, commented: “On behalf of Mind Matters I’d like to thank these fantastic veterinary organisations for collaborating with us. They have been doing such vital work in the profession, including on the intersections of factors such as ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity and disability with mental health, and we can’t talk about mental health unless we also have conversations about inequality.

“This course will help those attending understand the structural causes of inequality and the impact this has on individuals, workplaces and wider society; understand the relationship between mental health and inequality; develop an awareness of rights and responsibilities under the Equality Act; be able to recognize and respond to stigma and discrimination; and become a champion for equality and inclusion within the professions.

“More details about the courses will be published in due course but anyone who has an interest in finding out more and registering in advance for the courses can contact me on l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk.”

This week Lisa, along with Vetlife Helpline Manager and veterinary mental health researcher Rosie Allister, will also each be publishing blog posts which examine the inextricable links between mental health and equality. Rosie writes about how societal inequalities impact mental health, while Lisa writes about how people with mental illness can experience inequality, stigma and discrimination, and how this can be addressed, for example, through workplace adjustments. These will be posted here on the Mind Matters website and shared on social media.

World Mental Health Day’s focus on inequality also comes ahead of the formal publication of the joint BVEDS and Royal Veterinary College’s Race Together research which looked at the mental health impact of experiences of discrimination and racism on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) veterinary professionals. The research will be presented by principal researchers Victoria Crossley (RVC) and Navaratnam Partheeban (BVEDS) at the Mind Matters Initiative’s Research Symposium.

You can find out more about the Research Symposium and register in our events section.

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Mental Health Awareness Week Nature Competition 2021: Runners Up

Back in May 2021, MMI launched a photo competition on the theme of the links between the natural world, and our mental health and wellbeing. Retired veterinary surgeon Ralph Slaughter was crowned the winner for his collection of photographs called ‘Why I Am a Gardener’ in which he highlighted some of his proudest horticultural achievements and the impact that gardening has on his physical and mental health.

We received so many fantastic entries and would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who entered and shared their personal nature and wellbeing stories with us. They were truly inspiring, and we are delighted to be sharing some more entries with you. Here are our runners up:

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Preliminary findings from wellbeing survey of veterinary nursing profession revealed

A new survey of student veterinary nurses, recently graduated veterinary nurses and clinical coaches has revealed the prevalence of workplace stressors and unhealthy workplace culture issues across the profession, including concerns over the impact of widespread bullying and incivility within the veterinary workplace.

Carried out by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Mind Matters Initiative (MMI), the survey of over 650 people revealed that 96% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that bullying and incivility was a serious problem in the profession.

Furthermore, nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents had personally experienced a mental health concern and only half had received professional support for their concern. Over eight in 10 (82%) said that they thought veterinary nursing was a stressful career.

The survey was conducted to address the current research gap in the mental wellbeing of those working across the veterinary nursing profession. Participants were asked questions on a range of mental wellbeing areas including the level and quality of support available in education and work settings, stress, discrimination and bullying in educational and work settings and coping strategies for stress and mental ill-health.

Some of the additional key findings from the survey were:

  • One in five (20%) respondents have witnessed or experienced discrimination in an educational setting and around one-third of respondents had witnessed or experienced discrimination in a practice setting
  • Less than one in five (18%) respondents said they believed that veterinary nursing is a well-respected profession
  • Just over half (51%) feel positive about their future in veterinary nursing

However, the survey suggested there was a good level of awareness within the profession about how to access mental health support, with three-quarters (75%) of respondents saying that they knew where to access support for mental health if they need it and almost three-quarters (70%) found their clinical coach supportive.

The full findings of the survey will be revealed at the upcoming MMI Student Veterinary Nurse Wellbeing Discussion Forum, taking place on Wednesday 3 November. Attendees will have the opportunity to discuss the key challenges highlighted in the survey and discuss how they think they can be addressed. The results will also be published at a session led by Jill McDonald, VN Futures Project Coordinator at BVNA Congress, taking place Saturday 2 October – Monday 4 October.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager, commented: “A number of our survey findings are extremely concerning, particularly the high levels of bullying, incivility and discrimination reported by participants. We conducted the survey with the intention of finding out more about what systemic issues across workplace practices were impacting on the profession’s mental health. We want to thank everyone who took part and shared their experiences with us. There were some upsetting accounts shared with us about experiences of bullying and discrimination – no one should go through this at any point in their life, let alone at their place of work. Decisive action needs to be taken to tackle this and we will be using the findings of the survey to help form our 2022-2027 strategy and decide what resources and training we create for the profession. Supporting the wellbeing of veterinary nurses and student veterinary nurses is one of our key priorities, and will be part of all future MMI activities.”

“I would encourage as many veterinary nurses and student veterinary nurses as possible to attend the upcoming Student Veterinary Nurse Wellbeing Discussion Forum and our session at BVNA to have your voice heard about what steps need to be taken to improve the mental wellbeing of the profession. We recognise that these results may bring some difficult emotions to the fore for many people, and we would encourage anyone who has experienced bullying or discrimination to seek help from an organisation such as Vetlife or the National Bullying Helpline. I would urge anyone who witnesses bullying or discrimination in the workplace to speak out, wherever it is safe to do so. This takes immense courage, but it is only by calling out this behaviour that it can begin to be addressed. We will be launching Active Bystander training in early 2022, to equip people with the confidence to call out unacceptable behaviour, and the skills to proactively support colleagues who have been targeted.”

Matthew Rendle, Chair of the RCVS Veterinary Nurses Council, added: “As a veterinary nurse some of these results were a difficult read and I would like to thank those student vet nurses and newly qualified vet nurses who came forward with great honesty and bravery with their views and experiences, as it couldn’t have been easy.

“We take these matters very seriously and opening up the conversation is an important first step. I hope that, following these results, we can take look at things such as strengthening reporting mechanisms for bullying and discrimination and encouraging better workplace practices to mitigate against these incidents.

“While it’s easy to focus on the negatives, I do think that these survey results have given us positive steps to build on, not least that people know how to access mental health support so they’re not suffering in silence and the role that our amazing clinical coaches are playing in supporting people with their mental health, and how we can better give them the tools for this support.”

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Register now for international insight into veterinary mental health at Mind Matters Research Symposium

Mind Matters’ third Mental Health Research Symposium is now open for registrations and will see veterinary professionals from across the globe attend to present their latest research and insight into veterinary mental health and wellbeing.

The symposium will take place live online from 10am on Wednesday 24 November and will feature presentations from researchers based in the United States, Hong Kong, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as from the UK. You can register for this event via our MMI Events page.

Professor Susan Dawson, Chair of the Mind Matters Taskforce, will introduce the event and will be followed by the Symposium’s plenary speaker, Rory O’Connor, Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Glasgow and President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

Professor O’Connor’s talk, ‘When It is Darkest: Understanding Suicide Risk’ will draw upon his extensive research and work on the psychological processes which precipitate suicidal behaviour and self-harm, an area of expertise that has seen him advise the Scottish Government, as well as other national and international organisations, on suicide prevention strategies.

Following Professor O’Connor’s speech there will be presentations on studies funded by the 2020 Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant in which £20,000 was awarded to two separate research teams looking into veterinary mental health and wellbeing.

The first presentation will be from Dr Victoria Crossley from the Royal Veterinary College and Navaratnam Partheeban, co-founder of the British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society (BVEDS), on their research into the mental health impact of racism and discrimination on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) veterinarians.

The second presentation is from Professor Neil Greenberg and Dr Victoria Williamson from King’s College London on their research into the impact of ‘moral injury’ on the mental health and wellbeing of veterinarians. Morally injurious events are defined as experiences which violate one’s moral or ethical code.

The course of the day will then split into different research streams with presentations on a wide variety of topics including: the impact of cyberbullying and harassment; the wellbeing of veterinary interns and residents; stigma and stress in veterinary nursing; mental health awareness training in the undergraduate veterinary curriculum; and the relationship between ‘patient safety culture’ and staff burnout.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager, says: “As with previous years the Mind Matters Mental Health Research Symposium promises to be a very informative and important day in terms of international researchers coming together to share their research, their conclusions, areas for further work and study, and best practice. Some of the topics we will be discussing, such as suicide, will be difficult, but research into issues affecting the international veterinary community is a vital first step to putting in place strategies and support mechanisms to help those in need. This is why research will be one of the key strategic priorities for the Mind Matters Initiative and our forthcoming actions in this area will be published later this year in our Mind Matters Initiative Strategic Plan.

“I would like to thank Dr Rosie Allister, a veterinary mental health researcher from the University of Edinburgh and manager of Vetlife Helpline, for putting together an excellent programme. As with previous years we are also offering free attendance of the symposium to those who have lived experience of mental ill-health, those who are currently not working, and veterinary and veterinary nursing students. If you have any queries about the event, please don’t hesitate to contact me on l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk to discuss further.”

For further details on the day and registration, please visit the MMI Events page. Please note that, for those not eligible for free attendance, the cost of registration is £10.