VMCVM Wellness Committee- Friday Focus #1


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.

Thought of the Week:
What do the students at your school do about the problems in veterinary medicine?

Ideas:
something very similar to Amanda!
nothing…
something different than Amanda
??? (post in comments)

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12 thoughts on “VMCVM Wellness Committee- Friday Focus #1

  1. At OVC we have a Peer Helper group (2 students from each year are peer helpers) and they run things like lunch talks, anonymous care packages that you can send to people that are going through a tough time, sports tournaments like dodgeball, and act as students you can talk to. They really do a great job, and it would be great to start a club where more interested students could get involved. There is also talk of mental health carts being made that can be taken around school, with things like colouring, games, puzzles, etc. I really love what you are doing Amanda!

    Like

    • Thank you for your reply! Do you think anyone, yourself included, at OVC would like to do a more in-depth write up like this to share about what is going there? Two questions I might have for you:

      1) Do more people than those 2 want to be peer helpers? You make it seem like maybe more would and could get involved in a club. That seems like a great idea to involve more people. And the follow up to that would be: do you think people who aren’t peer helpers feel they don’t have to make themselves available to others in a tough time because it is someone else’s job?

      2) This is also for Amanda. What group should be targeted with these efforts and resources? For example, if someone was considering suicide as a viable alternative to whatever else is going on in their life, it would be tragic/comical to offer them a coloring book. Or, is the coloring book something that offers a creative outlet for stress that might prevent someone from ever beginning down the road that leads to hopelessness and suicide? Or maybe, these efforts help people at all stages along the spectrum, and the act of talking about it is enough to decrease the stigma and encourage others to decrease the stigma, so everyone can talk openly and get help.

      I’ve talked with people who feel these efforts are too little and so they are ineffective and insulting, and I’ve felt that at times too. I wanted to see how you would respond to those people.

      Like

      • I can look in to more details if you’d like! And to answer your questions:
        1) I think others would be interested. Each year the peer helpers volunteer right at the beginning of first year, so I think as time goes on and you get used to vet school, more would be interested in joining. I think they make 2 peer helpers in each class in order to “funnel” the questions or concerns through the peer helpers, instead of many people going to administration. This has pros and cons, but I would think many more would be interested. I wish we had more training in how to help others, because it’s not like others don’t step up, we all help each other out, it’s just if there’s a real crisis or a real worry, we don’t really know how to address it. By now everyone is familiar with the resources available, but that’s the extent of what we know how to do.
        2) I think these resources have their place- the best thing I can think of is giving us something fun and easy to do at lunch to prevent us from just sitting around and complaining about how stressed we are. Taking your mind off it for an hour would work wonders for us I think. I don’t think it can necessarily prevent everyone from going down that road, and obviously those that need professional help won’t benefit from a stress ball! I think you’re right, the biggest thing that we need to do is decrease stigma in an active way. I read something like “those that are suffering from a mental health problem are much more likely to perceive stigma than those that aren’t” so that’s why I think that decreasing stigma needs to be active and visible within the school community. And it’s getting better, but it’s not there just yet.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think it’s really important to focus on prevention, and that’s what most of these are for. Teaching students how to deal with stress in a healthy way, providing resources to reduce stress and negativity before it can crescendo in to something worse. When situations are really critical, I think the best thing to do is make known the other resources available and let trained professionals handle it, because I most certainly am not qualified.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I was just sent the link about the OVC Peer Helper group and all the other activities you guys do – and it all sounds awesome! I was actually looking to get in touch with someone for advice about how to set up similar things at VT. Do you have any names/emails I can hound?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Amanda, I have a question…what are your big tentative plans you don’t want to say? 😛 Maybe someone knows someone who can help you.

    I really like your idea of peer support groups. Is your plan even bigger than that?

    Like

    • I’m totally looking into the OVC thing because they seem like they have their plans together a lot more than I do. My main big plan was the peer support groups, but I have no idea if they’ll end up taking off. Our SCAVMA president was concerned about liability.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think this is great that students are getting involved in spreading awareness about mental health issues in the profession and how pervasive they are. Although I haven’t started classes yet, I’m looking forward to seeing if the University of Illinois CVM provides any groups to address these issues, and if not, I would definitely be interested in forming such a group.

    Like

    • Hi Alyssa, thanks for your comment! I talked with a current student, and she said that their SCAVMA (sort of like student government) hosted a wellness week, but there is no group that focuses on this in a large capacity. Send me an email at tgaines@vt.edu and I can get you two in contact to talk.

      Like

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