Being proactive about mental health and showing your colleagues you care
When Kirsty Bridger, a Joint Venture Partner (JVP) at Vets4Pets Rayleigh, joined a Facebook group for vet surgeons who are mothers, she soon realised how prevalent mental health issues are within the veterinary profession and how her practice colleagues may be struggling with issues of their own.
“I was naïve because I’ve never struggled with mental health issues, I assumed I was the norm. I’ve now realised I’m not the norm, and I’ve completely changed my outlook on mental health.”
“This was a light bulb moment for me,” says Kirsty. “I started to talk to my colleagues about it and soon realised I was unaware of their mental health."
"We work in a challenging profession and hard things happen that we need to deal with, including death. I completely changed my outlook on mental health and realised I needed to change things in the practice and to support my colleagues better.”
"I completely changed my outlook on mental health and realised I needed to change things in the practice and to support my colleagues better.”
When Kirsty and her Practice Manager, Vicky, attended the 2018 Pets at Home Vet Group Partner Conference, they were specifically interested to learn about a JVP who had created a wellness portfolio for their practice. During the long drive back to Essex, Kirsty and Vicky agreed to shut the practice for three days for an inaugural Wellness Week filled with resilience training, team building and simply, feel good activities. The goal was to help colleagues feel supported.
“I quickly realised that this is part of my job,” says Kirsty. “I need to make sure my colleagues aren’t affected by their jobs. I’m legally responsible to make sure no physical harm comes to them, but I need to also consider any mental harm that they might face in this challenging industry and make sure they can cope successfully with their duties.”
The 2018 Wellness Week included a Mind Matters workshop, a DiSC® profile session lead by the Veterinary Defence Society, team-building activities, a mini sports day, brainstorming time for charity and community involvement ideas and a session with the local police department about managing aggressive clients.
“Afterwards, we all felt that we knew each other better, and were communicating about personal experiences both positive and negative more openly.”
Plans are already underway for the 2019 Wellness Week, and practice colleagues are being surveyed to determine ideas and to see if there is anything as a team, they want to focus on and to gather team building ideas. Kirsty is determined and committed to making this an annual event despite the fact that she runs a busy practice and that 70 percent of her colleagues have children.
With this planning underway, the practice continues with its weekly, in-practice yoga and meditation sessions run by a qualified yoga instructor. Each Thursday at 6pm the practice blocks off time for all colleagues to participate, if they’d like to, and they take turns answering the phones and handling emergencies. Kirsty is also committed to running an open door policy and has informal catch ups each week with colleagues as a way to check in to see how everyone is doing.
“The Mind Matters workshop really helped me to recognise the subtle changes in someone that may indicate they are not doing well,” says Kirsty. “I once had a good colleagues who stopped being a good colleague, but I missed all of the signs that were telling me that this person was struggling. I’m conscious of this now. I will now say, ‘You don’t seem OK’. I’m aware of the signs that someone may be struggling with a mental health issue and feel better equipped for how to approach that situation.”
Kirsty says that we need to be more conscious of colleague wellness and to realise that this is a management responsibility.
“We need to stop thinking they will come to us,” says Kirsty. “They won’t. I don’t know why we have a brain block regarding mental health. We have a moral obligation to ensure that our staff are not damaged by our profession.”
When asked what advice she would give to other leaders within a vet practice, she says, “It doesn’t matter what you do just do something."
"Show your colleagues that you care, that you are on their side, that you want to help. It is actually incredibly easy because whatever you do it will send that message and will open up the conversation, which is all that is really needed.”