New Year’s resolutions – we all make them and gradually we fall off the proverbial wagon.
Good intentions can then lead onto a wee bit of despair as to why we can’t succeed. For many of us this is a mildly dispiriting but harmless annual ritual but for some it can spiral into more dangerous territory. This is certainly a somewhat gloomy time of year and it’s more important than ever to be mindful of our own mental health and wellbeing and that of loved ones and colleagues.
Mental health is now recognised and widely spoken about and we are all striving to remove the stigma so long associated with it. Even in my own extended family a previous generation female was locked away in a hospital for being deranged which would now be recognised as a mental health disorder.
My own resolutions this year, I’m afraid, are the same as previous years – to get fitter and lose a few pounds! So far, so good. I’ve just about lost the Christmas excess but maybe a wee way to go with the rest.
I also find it a good time to reflect on what we can do for ourselves – without sounding selfish. Five minutes here and there can make a huge difference to how we feel. I like to do a bit of exercise ranging from a simple walk, to a cycle, occasionally a run and a few HIIT work outs. But I also like to read and my really decadent five minutes (well 20 if I’m honest), is to run a warm, relaxing bath and melt the day away. These little treats will obviously be different for everyone but I really think it’s important to recognise that self-care is valuable and necessary, not an expendable indulgence. We all need a bit of looking after sometimes and only by shoring up our own mental health and wellbeing can we continue to be there for others.
Another area which I relate to both personally and professionally is that bond we have with a pet. The benefits of owning an animal include the endorphins released from simple petting, stroking or caring for an animal, exercise – such as taking the dog for a walk, or out for a hack on a pony, to simply the companionship they lend us. Nothing is more loyal than man’s best friend and I’ve always found that time spent with animals is great for recharging my batteries and letting go of my cares. I know lots of my clients over the years have felt the same.
One of the really positive outcomes of these healthier, more open conversations about mental health is that there are a number of new initiatives to provide earlier, more tailored support to different groups in our communities who may be struggling for different reasons.
When things aren’t right, or you are feeling overwhelmed, it can be isolating. Talking to family, friends, or colleagues about your feelings is often a good place to start. However, you may also benefit from outside support from someone who really understands what you’re going through.
A great example is Farmwell Scotland, a new initiative where organisations from the agricultural sector have come together to help vets and farmers learn how to recognise when things are difficult for their rural clients and neighbours. If you have any concerns you can call the RSABI helpline on 0300 111 4166 or if you are worried about someone, then let them know about the Farmwell Scotland initiative.
Meanwhile the National Rural Mental Health Forum continues to meet up and share ideas to enable rural people to open up about their mental health and remove stigma. If you wish to find out more, head to Rural Wellbeing,
I’m also very much aware that my veterinary colleagues are in no way immune from mental health issues, particularly at this time of year. All too often we can think that we are not affected by mental health or wellbeing issues or that the support services and resources are only there for when things get really bad. As a profession we’re working hard to make sure we have the support and tools we need to create a healthy, thriving profession. Let’s make sure we take care of ourselves and our colleagues by making the most of what’s out there.
On that note I’d like to suggest that we all make it one of our New Year’s resolutions to reach out and ask for, or offer, help if we think it may be needed. Things shouldn’t have to be desperate before you take action. If you’re a member of a Scottish vet team and are worried about yourself or a colleague you can call the Vetlife helpline 24/7 on 0303 040 2551 or email Vet Support Scotland at email@example.com Samaritans also offer excellent support to anyone who needs it. You can call them free on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathleen Robertson is the Scottish Branch President of the British Veterinary Association and works as a locum vet in Moray and Inverness.