Work-life balance and mental health of horse vets in spotlight

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An initiative to raise awareness of the mental health challenges facing equine veterinarians and coping mechanisms they can adopt has been launched to coincide with World Mental Health Day.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) and the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) have joined forces to help combat the challenges facing equine veterinary surgeons, and to offer advice and support.

A short animated film featuring a typical ‘day in the life’ of a young equine veterinary surgeon has also been released, showing the highs and lows that such a day might encompass, and some simple measures to support good mental health.

Co-produced by the two organisations, the film depicts both the undeniable sense of accomplishment equine vets experience, for example, when saving a life or getting a tricky mare in foal, and the highly stressful days where things don’t go as well, despite best efforts.

The film goes on to suggest simple changes equine vets can incorporate into their day to help maintain a healthy work-life balance, some practical ways to make the most challenging days more manageable, and general good practice to help equine veterinary professionals keep things in perspective.

Mind Matters Initiative chair Susan Dawson said research had shown that veterinary professionals across multiple sectors are at a higher risk of serious psychological distress and suicide.

“There is also evidence, however, that implementing mechanisms to help vets cope with work-related stressors, as well as reducing barriers to seeking mental health support, may well reduce these risks,” she said.

“Over the past few years, the increased focus on mental health and wellbeing amongst veterinary professionals has led to a greater understanding that if we, as vets, consistently implement small changes to our day, it can have a significant positive impact on our lives.

“Just simple things like listening to a podcast when driving to calls, calling a friend or colleague for a chat, and making time to stop for lunch, can increase our resilience and help us put things in perspective.”

BEVA president Lucy Grieve said that for most equine vets, most of the time, the job is fantastic. ”For many, it’s the only career we ever imagined ourselves pursuing. But some of us feel we should always be perfect, which can have a negative impact, particularly when things don’t go to plan.

“Recognising that perfection is not always achievable is crucial in maintaining a healthy work-life balance, whilst still striving for a fulfilling career. We know that, increasingly, equine vets receive some support from colleagues and mentors in practice, but this animation provides a few suggestions of small changes that everyone can make to help gain perspective. It’s not rocket science or a magic wand, but there is strong evidence that small consistent changes can really help.”

The animation also includes information about the support resources available from Mind Matters, as well as contact details for the veterinary community support charity, Vetlife, and encourages vets to make use of the support available as early as possible.

The Mind Matters Initiative was launched in 2015 and is funded and run by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing of those in the veterinary team, including students, veterinary nurses, veterinary surgeons and practice managers.

World Mental Health Day is an international day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. It was first celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health and was marked this year on October 10.

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