Here at Beasts, Unburdened we are starting a new series that aims to continue the mission of the blog. We hope it encourages veterinary students to take care of one another, encourages communication, and builds community.
In the past few years as the problems with mental health in veterinary medicine have been brought to light, it has been the trend for students and faculty at different veterinary schools to make an effort to address these issues. This has been in the form of conducting research, hosting symposiums, or forming clubs tasked with making strides in the right direction. Some schools have been doing this years, while some are just thinking of getting started. Surely, others have not even begun.
Through this blog, I have had the chance to meet and talk with many people at other schools. Some have asked me for advice on how to make change at their schools. I had to be honest: I don’t know. Therefore, I asked those who have experience to come and share your experience with others. “Friday Focus” was born.
The first Focus comes from Amanda (who also writes for this blog) who started the Wellness Committee at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in October 2015. She shares what she learned through the process and what the future holds for the group.
Do you have questions for Amanda? Comments? Would you like to collaborate, or do you have some tips from your own experience? Share them in the comments below. You can comment complete anonymously, and no email address is required.
1) Who are you?
My name is Amanda Carlson, I’m a (soon-to-be) 3rd year at VMCVM, tracking public/corporate.
2) When was the VMCVM Wellness Committee formed?
I started the wellness committee around the end of the fall semester of 2015, but it didn’t really get underway until the beginning of the spring semester of 2016.
3) Why was it formed?
Really it was because I was bored in class one day. I have no idea why the idea originally popped in my head, but I wrote up a charter manifesto during class and spring-boarded from there. The reason I thought it was such a necessity and continued following through on this one-off idea is because there is such a staggering influence of mental health problems within the veterinary profession, and a great place to start addressing it is within the student population. I wanted to create;
a) awareness of the significant implications and prevalence of mental health concerns,
b) create resources for students in need, and
c) eliminate stigma associated with the topic of mental health and wellness.
4) What are some things the Wellness Committee does?
So far, we have established weekly yoga classes and created a “relaxation corner” with coloring supplies, puzzles, cards, play-doh, stress balls, etc… as a place where students can take a break from studying and relieve some stress. I have plans to arrange speakers throughout the semester and some bigger plans as well (which are so tentative I don’t want to get ahead of myself and start talking about them), but I need to recruit some officers to help out.
5) What has worked really well? What is some feedback you have gotten?
Working with the faculty has been really important. They are so helpful and supportive and allowed me to accomplish a lot that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do. They also recognize the importance of mental health and are going above and beyond to make sure I have all the resources I need to accomplish a lot of my projects. Generally feedback has been really positive. I’ve had several people reach out and thank me for starting this, which warms my cold dead heart.
6) What are some things that haven’t worked? What are some struggles the committee has faced in making changes?
Trying to accomplish more than one thing at a time has not worked. I got so excited with all my ideas and tried to do everything at once, which just resulted in getting nothing done. Pick something, complete it, then move on to the next thing. b. Working by myself, while it feeds my control freak tendencies, has not been great. I plan on trying to integrate more people in to the committee for some extra hands, and some extra ideas. c. So far, I think I’ve really been limiting myself in making changes because I’m working on my own. I expect next semester will be even better!
7) What areas of future work do you see?
I’d really like to start peer-led support groups. If I can get that done, it’ll be my crowning achievement. There are a lot of logistical issues with starting it, but I’m steadily plugging away. I’m always looking for new ideas about what I can create as a resource for students. I’m excited to see what people are doing at other schools, and will probably shamelessly steal their ideas.
8) What else would you like to tell other veterinary students?
I think my biggest take-away from how successful and well-received this committee has been is that the concerns regarding improving mental health are so important, and people are really taking notice. The absolute pervasiveness should be a strong indicator that these issues are so common. And yet people feel isolated when they’re struggling, in my opinion due to the stigma of discussing wellness problems with others. I want everyone to realize that needing help is so common, and nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Once we can feel comfortable discussing our personal struggles with each other, we’ll have made huge strides in curbing this tremendously important issue that has plagued our profession.
Thank you for reading! Share your thoughts and questions below.
If you go to a veterinary school and have experience with forming a club to deal with mental health issues or taking action in some other way, get in contact with us here. We would love to hear from you and you would surely help your colleagues.