Focus on the international evidence base
Almost 100 delegates from across the UK and as far afield as Canada, the United States and the Netherlands attended the second ‘Mind Matters’ research symposium in London on 24 September.
The focus was on the evidence base for mental health problems in the veterinary profession, and how to best prevent and treat mental ill-health and poor well-being.
In his plenary speech, Professor Stuart Reid CBE, principal of the Royal Veterinary College, London, gave an overview of the highlights of the first five years of the 'Mind Matters' initiative (MMI) including the facts that it had:
- delivered around 60 mental health awareness training courses, many in conjunction with the BSAVA
- financially supported the Vetlife charity, in particular its Health Support service and its helpline for veterinary professionals in distress
- launched &me – a joint mental health destigmatisation campaign with the Doctors’ Support Network aimed at health professionals
- run two series of online mindfulness courses with the Webinar Vet as well as a series of webinars about sleep which had nearly 500 delegates across 13 countries
- hosted a ‘Medical Mind Matters’ conference with members of the veterinary, pharmacy, dental and medical professions, to talk about how the health professions can share best practice on mental health and well-being
- launched the joint MMI and SPVS Vet Well-being Awards – which showcases veterinary practices that have staff well-being at the heart of all they do
- produced and published numerous marketing materials and publications
- supported a number of other projects including the student-led VetKind initiative and the Vet NI peer-support network in Northern Ireland.
Professor Reid estimated that MMI had come into direct contact with around five to 10 per cent the of veterinary profession; but, through its destigmatisation, well-being and awareness-raising work, potentially many more members of the professions.
The event then split into two streams of research presentations which were followed by a second plenary talk from Dr Alexandra Pitman, an associate professor in psychiatry at University College, London, who spoke about the sensitive topic of the impact of suicides within the veterinary profession on colleagues.
After giving an overview of rates of suicide and their impact on colleagues, family and friends across the general UK population, she focused on some of the specific issues and challenges with veterinary suicides.
She hypothesised that factors relating to suicides amongst vets specifically might include work overload, unrealistic client expectations and complaints, practice/business responsibilities in addition to clinical work, and co-occurring life events, such as bereavement and relationship problems.
She also gave advice to veterinary professionals on suggested approaches to suicide prevention, how best to intervene if a colleague is feeling suicidal, and how managers should approach staff well-being in cases where a colleague has sadly taken their own life.
For the latter example she emphasised that support must be offered to all practice staff, as well as key clients who may have had long-standing friendships with the colleague, and arranging a reflective event in which all staff can talk about what has happened and to gauge how they wish to be supported.
The third plenary speaker was Professor Neil Greenberg, a former psychologist in the Armed Forces and now professor of defence mental health at King’s College London, who spoke about the evidence base for how to best sustain resilience at work.
He said that research suggests that while work is probably a positive factor for well-being, work pressures and stressors can also be a significant source of poor mental health and well-being.
Professor Greenberg said that, while a range of mental health issues can impact everyday working life, there are significant barriers such as stigma and lack of available services and it is therefore important for workplaces to look seriously at prevention.
Preventive measures that he recommended include:
- having a clear policy that sets the culture, outlines responsibilities, and details support
- training leaders so that they understand the issues and how to best support staff in these circumstances
- forging mutually supportive teams, as he said that resilience is often formed between individuals rather than within them.
He also weighed into current debates around ‘pre-screening’ of individuals for resilience before they join or train for certain professions and said that there is no evidence of correlation between certain personality types and incidence of mental ill-health and no evidence that any sort of screening is effective in this regard.