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Keeping up the Conversation about Mental Health

Reflections from our 'It's Time to Talk' webinar.

Back on Feb 7th, Time to Talk Day, we came together as a profession to have a conversation about mental health. A panel from VDST, Vetlife and the RCVS discussed the facts, the challenges and some of the great initiatives already going on to improve the mental health within the profession. We talked about the power of talking not just to help people who are struggling in the moment, but also the importance of speaking up to end the stigma that surrounds poor mental health.

It’s 3 months since that discussion (where did that time go?!) and we thought now would be a good time to continue the conversation and in particular, to talk about how we can recognise the shame that surrounds mental illness and the part we can all play in ending it.

A few weeks ago, the RCVS Mind Matters initiative was live at BSAVA. Disclosure is a powerful way to discuss mental illness – it seeks to improve people’s understanding of the different conditions, to challenge misconceptions and by doing so, to help us explore our own emotions and thoughts around this difficult subject. To tackle stigma head-on we have to acknowledge these feelings and thoughts and where they come from.

Often the hardest part of mental illness is the self-stigma; the self-judgement and feeling of weakness – that you aren’t even coping when everyone else around you is excelling. This is particularly true in a profession of high-achievers who hold themselves to very high standards and who have an internal dialogue about success and failure. Our brains have got us to where we are today and mental illness strikes at the very core of something right at the heart of our personal and professional identity.

Talking about mental health and mental illness can make us feel uneasy and it’s okay to acknowledge that. We need to recognise it and then ask ourselves where those feelings come from. Some of them will come from a fear of the situation (“I don’t know how to handle this”) or a fear of the emotion itself (“Talking about feelings makes me feel uncomfortable”). We run complex programmes in our subconscious made up of years of input, particularly when we were young. Logically we can consciously refute some of that negative messaging now, but subconsciously and emotionally it’s a little harder to unpick.

By understanding our own feelings and thoughts on mental health, it helps us to act with more self-compassion. In doing so, we can start to understand what drives the negative reaction from other people and to act with compassion and empathy towards them rather than judgement and anger. Change takes time and persistence; it won’t happen overnight however much we would like it to. Here’s four thoughts on how you can keep the conversation going:

Be Open and Honest With Yourself

Recognise your own thoughts and feelings about mental health and mental illness; explore them with compassion rather than judgement. Self-compassion supports our own mental health and improves our own resilience.

Break the Cycle

Be aware when you hear stigma and discrimination around mental health; recognise that even seemingly “throw away comments” perpetuate the cycle. If you feel you can, open the door for a discussion.

Be Curious

Take time to explore and acknowledge other people’s perspectives and ask yourself what might be driving their behaviour.

Keep Talking

Above all, keep talking. Show up to the discussion in whatever way is right for you, whether that’s a quiet chat with one person or talking about mental health on a public forum... it all counts. 

About VDS Training
VDS Training are passionate about developing all members of the veterinary team, to help you overcome the personal and professional challenges you face on a daily basis, and to build practical skills and techniques to make a real difference to you and your life.