The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has launched the Mind Matters Initiative, to help address mental health and well-being issues.
Mental health is argued to be one of the biggest issues in the veterinary profession and the scheme aims to encourage a culture that is better equipped for mental illness.
Neil Smith, RCVS vice-president and chairman of Mind Matters Initiative, said: “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 there is active engagement from across the various veterinary associations and stakeholders.
“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.”
The first Mind Matters Initiative action is providing funding to ensure callers to Vet Helpline, a 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.
Rosie Allister, chairman of Vet Helpline, said: “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.
“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. The Vet Helpline number is 07659 811 118 and there is also a confidential email service, accessible via www.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 in 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 (www.vetfutures.org.uk) 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.