- Veterinarian and founder of High Performance Vets, Dr. Natasha Wilks is joined by industry experts to offer mental health advice and insight to the veterinary industry
- Last chance to help Zoetis raise $100,000 to support mental health in Australia
__ Mental ill-health and suicide have become an unfortunate reality fortoday’s veterinary industry, with concerning research showing that on average,an Australian vet dies at their own hand every twelve weeks, four times therate of the general population.
Recently, Veterinarian and founder of High Performance Vets, Dr. NatashaWilks, discussed what veterinary practices can do to combat the factors thatexacerbate the issue and how to move toward thriving at work.
“We need to rethink mental health and set the bar higher than simply theabsence of a mental illness, by aiming to enhance well-being, which is definedas feeling good and functioning well. Mental well-being impacts a person’scapacity and performance in the workplace. Each challenge requires copingmechanisms and it’s important to rest to recharge and regain capacity.”
Here, Dr Wilks is joined by Lance Williams, Zoetis’ Senior Vice President forAustralia and New Zealand and Dr Hester Raijmakers, VetPartners GeneralManager of Veterinary Services to offer advice and insight into mental healthin the veterinary industry.
Start with you
“Everyone is different, so it’s important to understand what is challengingyou and why. This could range from financial concerns to demanding workloads.For example, a lot of vets and nurses entering the profession have kept arigorous structure to meet university deadlines. They then struggle with theunpredictability of practice life, making it important to help them find thatstructure and cope with the uncertainty they’re now exposed to,” says Dr.Wilks.
“Where possible, try to identify issues or instances that you find stressfuland question what core values of yours they are at odds with,” adds DrRaijmakers. “For example, it may be that you are frustrated by the long hours,not because of the hard work itself, but because it takes time away from yourfamily. From there, you can focus on that need. Find the real problem and thenthe solution.”
Understand what works for you
“There are definitely some basics that everyone should work on to help withtheir mental health,” says Dr. Wilks. “I like to call them the key five, whichare physical activity, healthy nutrition, sleep, taking breaks and holidays.Some of these can double up, for example taking a break to go walking willhelp you to de-stress and boost serotonin and dopamine, while creating anopportunity for mindfulness.”
“Breaks are hugely important,” adds Dr Raijmakers. “It can be hard to justifythem to yourself and may feel like you are putting your colleagues under addedpressure, but remember that you’ll be more productive when you get back andwill get more done overall. If you really struggle, start a buddy system atwork, where you keep each other accountable for taking breaks.”
Change your perspective
“Personally, I found reframing mistakes into learnings very useful,” adds Dr.Wilks. “As vets, we go through academia seeing mistakes as failures thataffect our grades. In the real world, we need to live with the unexpected, sowe have to be realistic and kind with ourselves to grow from adversity.”
“We often get asked about dealing with difficult customers,” says DrRaijmakers. “This can be daunting, so it’s important for practices to have aclear plan on how to tackle this. Clinical Leaders and Practice managersshould provide a clear process for dealing with customers and guidance on whento escalate problems. Letting team members know that they have your supportand what they can say in tough situations will give them the confidence toengage and disengage as needed.”
“Part of dealing with difficult conversations is also understanding thatcustomers are going through some of the same challenges we are. This isespecially true during COVID-19, where concerns over safety and financialstress have changed the way we interact with our customer and their pets. Byacknowledging the extra stressors that COVID-19 is placing on customers, suchas not being able to accompany their pets in consults, it allows us torecognise and address the root of negative behaviour and can help de-escalatestressed customers.”
**Speak out and get help
“If you are struggling more days than you’re striving, it’s time to saysomething,” advises Dr. Wilks. “We’re in a challenging profession, soinitially, a peer may be able to help. Just remember that a vent now and thencan help blow off steam, but if it’s all the time it becomescounterproductive.”
“Remember that reaching out is a sign of strength,” adds Zoetis’ LanceWilliams. “The practices we see flourishing take an active approach tosupporting their teams. When things get really tough, they have establishedpathways for team members to get professional help, such as mental healthorganisations like Beyond Blue.”
In 2020 Zoetis hopes to raise $100,000 to support Beyond Blue’s nationwideonline and phone counselling services and referrals by donating $5 for everyZoetis product sold before Saturday, 31st October 2020. Now in its fifth year,the campaign aims to reach half-a-million dollars in donations since 2015.
“We are dedicated to improving mental health among vets. To date, Zoetis’donations across veterinary and rural farming initiatives have allowed over8,000 people to get the help they need through the Beyond Blue Support Serviceand we are hoping to help more people this year,” concludes Lance Williams.
For more information on how you can help Zoetis raise vital funds to encouragemental health through its partnership with Beyond Blue please visitzoetis.com.au
 Suicide in Australian Veterinarians by Jones-Fairnie, Ferroni, Silburn,Lawrence, Australian Veterinary Journal
Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the Beyond Blue SupportService – 1300 22 4636 – or via beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat(3pm-12am ADST) or email (within 24 hours).
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