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Mind Matters at BSAVA Congress

Mind Matters is heading to the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Congress this year, holding a number of sessions on mental health.

On the Thursday in Hall 6 there will be two sessions hosted by Mind Matters Chair, Stuart Reid. From 11:05-11:50 Elinor O’Connor, Director of Teaching and Learning Fellow at Alliance Manchester Business School, and Lizzie Lockett, RCVS CEO, will give a talk titled ‘Maximising wellbeing at work: an evidence-based approach’, and then from 12:00-12:45 there will then be a talk titled ‘Blaming, excuses and mindset – how changing the way you think and speak can help change practice culture’ with Anne-Marie Svendesen Aylott, Leadership Coach at PurpleCat Coaching.

Also, on the Saturday there will be an ‘&me Live’ event chaired by Lizzie in her capacity as Director of Mind Matters, to talk about the joint Mind Matters and Doctors’ Support Network mental health campaign, &me. The campaign aims to encourage senior people within the healthcare professions to come forward with their stories to reduce the stigma around mental ill health, and demonstrate that a mental health problem does not exclude people from achieving leading roles in healthcare.

For a full schedule of RCVS talks at BSAVA Congress, please visit the RCVS website.

Lizzie Lockett at AndMe campaign launch

Anniversary of joint mental health campaign

On 31 January we and the Doctors’ Support Network (DSN) are marking the first anniversary of our joint ‘&me’ campaign, which aims to tackle mental health stigma in the health professions by encouraging prominent members to speak out about their own experiences. The Doctors’ Support Network provides peer support for doctors and medical students with mental health concerns.

&me was launched this time last year at the Palace of Westminster at an event sponsored by Kevan Jones MP (Labour, North Durham,) who has spoken about his own experiences with depression.

Overall eleven &me ambassadors have volunteered their own stories with mental ill-health:

  • Dr Louise Freeman, tribunal member and vice chair DSN
  • Dr Angelika Luehrs, consultant psychiatrist and co-chair DSN
  • Dr Jonathan Richardson, group medical director for community services, Northumberland Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dr Caroline Reed O’Connor, a senior trainee psychiatrist and psychotherapist
  • David Bartram, RCVS Council member
  • Malcolm Kinnear, consultant psychiatrist and Honorary Senior Clinical Teacher at the University of Dundee
  • Rob Pettitt, Senior Lecturer in Small Animal Orthopaedics, University of Liverpool
  • Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, consultant clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, and supervisor
  • Dr Cathy Wield, emergency medicine doctor and author
  • Dr Susan Atcheson, senior GP
  • Steve Carter, Director at Priory Veterinary Surgeons

Meanwhile, a number of &me ambassadors will be taking part in an ‘&me live’ session at BSAVA Congress, from 5-8 April 2018 in Birmingham, providing a short overview of their story before taking questions from the audience. The session will take place from 8.30 to 10.10am on Saturday 7 April and will be open to all those attending Congress.

Lizzie Lockett, RCVS CEO and Mind Matters Director, said: “The feedback our &me ambassadors have received is truly heartening. Steve Carter, for example, had both an ex-student and colleague comment on his story thanking him for all he’s done, while a Facebook post about Rob Pettitt reached nearly 25,000 people. The campaign highlights how it is possible to recover from mental ill-health and flourish in your career, with the aim of encouraging those at the start of their mental ill-health experience to seek appropriate help, whether that is something profession-specific, such as Vetlife or DSN, or their GP.”

Louise Freeman, Co-Chair of the DSN, added: “Many healthcare professionals face similar pressures that can lead to mental ill-health, including long hours, intense pressure, and the nature of the job which requires practitioners to constantly provide care for others, without necessarily recognising the need for self-care at the same time. A recurring theme that we’ve seen from these ambassadors’ stories has been that they drew on support from friends and family, and we really hope that this campaign encourages other professionals to seek help if they feel they are struggling.”

The campaign is interested in hearing from not only doctors and veterinary surgeons but also nurses, veterinary nurses, dentists, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals who want to open up about their experiences of mental ill-health. To participate in the campaign, please email Dr Louise Freeman on vicechair@dsn.org.uk.

Further information about the ‘&me’ campaign can be found on our project page, along with a blog by Louise, ‘Me and #AndMe’.

On social media tweets about the campaign are being sent from @vetmindmatters and @DocSupportNet using the hashtag #AndMe.

Louise Freeman

Me and #AndMe

Louise Freeman, Vice-Chair of the Doctors’ Support Network

The Doctors’ Support Network (DSN) is a peer support network established in 1996 by and for doctors and medical students with mental health issues. At that time, there was almost no specialist mental health support for affected professionals and a widespread belief that a diagnosis of, for example, bipolar affective disorder, would automatically exclude a doctor from practice (not now the case!).

As the Vice-Chair of DSN, I first came into contact with the RCVS regarding the cross-professional ‘Medical Minds Matter’ conference at Maudsley Learning in 2015, hosted by the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative.

Medical Minds Matter brought together veterinary surgeons, doctors, pharmacists and dentists to look at common factors in addressing the raised incidence (compared to the general public) of mental health problems in the healthcare professions. The good news, by the way, is that health professionals do very well with appropriate support and have better-than-average mental health outcomes. I agreed to give a talk about DSN and was then asked whether I could think of anyone who would be prepared to talk about their own experience of being a healthcare professional with a mental health problem. The team organising the event were struggling to find anyone who was willing to speak openly. I could think of someone – me. So, I also gave a talk about my own experience.

On my way home, while waiting for a train, I suddenly thought that if we could persuade even a few senior, currently well, health professionals to openly talk about having had a mental health problem, this would be a powerful stimulus to change our current harmful culture of stigma and shame.

I felt that although the professional bodies in healthcare now exhort practitioners to seek help early if they feel unwell, one is left with the impression that successful seniors have never had a mental health problem and if one does admit to an issue, it is career suicide.

To illustrate this, in 2003, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists published a ground-breaking article in the British Medical Journal about his own experience of recurrent depression. As we were still talking about this article in 2015, that in itself shows that not many more senior doctors had talked openly about their own mental health since then… I also thought that if a group of professionals almost literally stood up together, then that would be both easier to do and more powerful as an anti-stigma message, hence #AndMe as the name of the campaign.

After the conference, I persuaded Lizzie Lockett, Mind Matters Director, that a joint initiative to challenge mental health stigma in this way would be great although, we both thought that this might be an uphill battle. DSN and RCVS agreed that we had to be very cautious on our role models’ behalf in order to avoid any risk to the professional’s personal or professional wellbeing resulting from them taking part in the campaign.

A year later, four (slightly nervous) senior role models assembled at the launch of the #AndMe campaign at the House of Commons: David Bartram – vet and RCVS Council member, Angelika Luehrs – consultant psychiatrist and DSN chair, Jonathan Richardson – consultant psychiatrist and medical director of a Care Quality Commission graded outstanding mental health trust and me. Kevan Jones MP introduced us with a fantastic talk about his own experience of depression and we were off.

We achieved professional press coverage in the campaign launch and have since had almost entirely positive feedback in response to our sharing of senior role model health stories mainly via social media. So far, there is a steady stream of brave volunteers to potentially make a positive difference to how all health professionals view their own mental health. I had not done anything like this campaign before and have been amazed by the response to our wonderful volunteers’ real life narratives.

In essence, #AndMe seems to be achieving its initial aim of reducing mental health stigma in health professionals by showing that a mental ill-health history does not preclude achieving career success at the highest level. Stories can really change the world.

#AndMe only works because of our fantastic volunteers who are willing to share their mental health stories. If you would like to join the campaign, please contact me on vicechair@dsn.org.uk to have an initial chat.

To read our #AndMe stories, visit the campaign page on either the DNS or the Mind Matters websites, and follow our hashtag on Twitter.

Lizzie Lockett at AndMe campaign launch

Great results reported from mental health campaign

We and the Doctors’ Support Network (DSN) are pleased to report positive progress since the launch in January of their joint anti-stigma mental health campaign.

The &me campaign (#AndMe), which was launched at the House of Commons in January, has taken a new approach to the de-stigmatisation of mental ill-health within the healthcare professions.

Although health professional bodies advise professionals to value their own wellbeing and seek appropriate help if unwell, there has been an absence of senior professionals who have felt able to say ‘been there myself’.

By asking senior medical professionals to share their stories of overcoming struggles with mental health, &me aims to encourage other medical professionals to seek help, in part by showing that such experiences do not exclude people from achieving leading roles in healthcare.

With the addition of Dr Cathy Wield in August, there are now seven ambassadors for the &me campaign, and all of their stories can be read on our website:

  • Dr Caroline Reed O’Connor, who went on to be a senior trainee psychiatrist and psychotherapist after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder
  • David Bartram, a veterinary surgeon and member of RCVS Council who was in hospital multiple times as a result of depression before gaining additional qualifications and moving into roles of increasing responsibility
  • Dr Malcolm Kinnear, a psychiatrist who took long-term sick leave for depression before completing his training to become a consultant and taking an honorary teaching position at the University of Dundee
  • Dr Susan Atcheson, a senior GP who has experienced multiple episodes of psychotic depression
  • Rob Pettitt, a vet and Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool who experienced depression, taking eight weeks off work before slowly returning to a full-time schedule
  • Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, a psychologist, psychotherapist and supervisor, who was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. He then went on to gain a consultant post with the Ministry of Defence, achieve three fellowships and four professorships, establish a research institute and become President of the British Psychological Society
  • Dr Cathy Wield, a doctor who experienced two bouts of severe depression including hospital admissions and brain surgery. She returned to work in emergency medicine, and has written two books about her experience of being a doctor with depression.

Lizzie Lockett, Director of the Mind Matters Initiative, said: “Over the past eight months we have seen an incredible level of support for our &me ambassadors. Our Facebook post about Rob Pettitt, for example, reached nearly 25,000 people, many of whom posted stories about Rob helping them navigate veterinary school and better understand their own mental health issues. These kind of role models really do help reduce stigma, and we thank every one of our ambassadors for having the courage to share their own experiences with mental health.”

Louise Freeman, Vice-Chair of the Doctors’ Support Network, said: “The &me campaign has really shown how the medical professions can work together when it comes to mental health. Medical professionals face many of the same challenges, and we needn’t face them alone – instead we can work as one to tackle stigma and speak openly about mental health issues. And it’s not just in the UK that health professionals can feel as if they are ‘not allowed’ to experience mental health problems. As a direct result of the &me campaign, health professionals from around the world including Australia and the U.S. have been in contact with DSN to confirm that they have similar issues within their local health culture.”

The campaign is still interested in hearing from not only doctors and veterinary surgeons but also nurses, veterinary nurses, dentists, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals who want to open up about their experiences of mental ill health. To participate in the campaign, please email Dr Louise Freeman on vicechair@dsn.org.uk.

On social media tweets about the campaign are sent from @vetmindmatters and @DocSupportNet Twitter accounts using the hashtag #AndMe.