Working to improve the well-being of members of the profession - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Working to improve the well-being of members of the profession

JAYNE LAYCOCK
reports on her pick-of-the-month webinar “The Science of Happiness”, led by David Bartram, BVetMed, DipECSRHM, FRCVS, director of the Veterinary Benevolent Fund

BEING a vet can be a full and
rewarding career, but it can also be
tough. The demanding entry
requirements for vet school mean
that many vets are high achievers,
and perfectionism is often sought in
a job where perfection is hard to
achieve.

We work long and antisocial hours
with financial rewards that are unlikely
to match our
peers within
the medical
profession. So
I wasn’t
particularly
surprised to
hear that the
suicide rate
within the veterinary profession is
three to four times that of the general
population and twice that of dentists,
medics and pharmacists.

Vets also suffer from a higher rate
of anxiety and depression, and the
profession has a higher proportion of
“at-risk drinkers” when compared to
the general population.

David Bartram included these facts
in his recent webinar on The Webinar
Vet on The science of happiness in which
he discussed the mental well-being of
the veterinary profession and how we
can help to ensure that we don’t add to
these saddening statistics.

Mr Bartram, who qualified at the
RVC in 1988 and spent three years in
mixed practice before making his
career in the pharmaceutical industry in
both human and animal health sectors,
is a director of the Veterinary
Benevolent Fund with responsibility
for the Veterinary Surgeons’ Health
Support Programme.

He was awarded the RCVS
Diploma of Fellowship by Thesis and
received the degree of Master of Philosophy from the University of
Southampton for his research into the
mental health and well-being of the
UK veterinary profession.

David started by defining “mental
well-being” as “feeling good and
functioning effectively”. What
determines well-being, however, is
more complicated and is affected by
three criteria: genetics (50%),circumstances (10%) and factors under
our voluntary control (40%).

Genetics and circumstances cannot
be easily changed but “factors under
our voluntary control” is an area we
can work on to take positive steps
towards a healthier mental state.

Taking action

These voluntary actions fall into a
number of categories and David cited
the acronym GREAT DREAM to help
explain 10 voluntary actions which
could make a real difference to our
levels of “happiness”.

  • G is for giving. This could be as
    simple as offering kind words to
    someone. More often than not the
    benefits of offering support are greater
    than those for receiving it.
  • R is for relating to people. The
    connection with other people affects
    our happiness more than any other
    single factor. Having confiding
    relationships where negative feelings
    can be articulated has a very positive
    effect. It must also be remembered that
    friendship is all about quality, not quantity. Having numerous friends on Facebook really doesn’t help to achieve
    happiness if those friendships are
    meaningless and shallow.
  • E is for exercise. The benefits of
    exercise are many-fold whatever our
    age, but exercise taken early on in adult
    life has a protective effect against
    severe depression when we are older.
    Any positive mental benefit reaped
    from exercise tends to be based on the
    amount rather than the intensity, and
    three 20-minute brisk walks a week
    could make a real difference. Sleep is
    also extremely important and a good
    regular six to eight hours of sleep per
    night is optimal.
  • A is for appreciating the world
    around you whilst trying to be
    accepting and non-judgemental of
    others.
  • T is for “trying out” challenges and
    engaging in daily tasks which create
    “flow”. Flow can be translated into
    performing activities that allow you to
    fall into a state of mind where
    everything else, other than the task in
    front of you, disappears from
    consciousness. Often this means
    engaging in activities which test our
    skills but are within our capacity. It
    doesn’t include passive forms of
    activity such as watching television.
  • D is for direction and having a goal
    to aim at.
  • R is for resilience. Try to remain
    optimistic even in the face of adversity.
    Negative thoughts need to be
    challenged, and pessimistic
    expectations disputed.
  • E is for emotion. The benefits of
    emotions such as joy, gratitude,
    contentment, inspiration and pride
    should never be underestimated. We
    must always keep a sense of
    perspective and never be lured into the
    trap of perfectionism. Reflecting on
    and savouring the good in our lives can
    be very powerful. David suggested
    keeping a gratitude diary where we
    write down three good things that
    happen every day, which has been
    proven to have beneficial effects on
    well-being.
  • A is for acceptance and being
    content with who you are and being
    yourself. You should also give yourself
    permission to be human and not beat
    yourself up when mistakes will
    inevitably be made.
  • M is for meaning and involves
    engaging in activities that are
    meaningful to you. These activities
    could, for example, be related to
    religious beliefs, or perhaps voluntary
    and charitable work.

The GREAT DREAM acronym gives an overview of what we can do
to protect ourselves from a decline in
our well-being. However putting
GREAT DREAM to one side for a
moment, I had mentioned in the
introductory paragraph that poor
financial rewards compared to our
peers could make our job tough. But is
this actually true? Can money make us
happy?

Evidence indicates that money will
not bring happiness. No matter how
much we earn, we become habituated
to our income, our aspirations rise and
we fall into the trap of envying people
who earn more.

So I’m afraid for all those people
(including myself) who think winning
the lottery will solve all our problems,
this is simply not the case. Winning the
lottery has been shown to increase
well-being only in the short term.

If, against all odds, you do happen
to win the lottery, the key to
maintaining happiness is to try and
spend the money wisely.

Give some away to those in need,
spend it sparingly on yourself and try
to buy experiences rather than material
goods.

This webinar has really made me
stop and think about trying to maintain
a more positive outlook on life. We are
lucky to have the Veterinary
Benevolent Fund to offer support to
vets who are struggling with “life”.

But it is clear that further research
is needed to determine why we, as a
profession, suffer such high suicide
rates, and thereby help improve the
well-being of our future profession.

In the meantime, I intend to put
into practice all I have learnt from this
webinar, and in the words of Eric Idle,
“Always look on the bright side of
life.”

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