Thank you to the veterinary student members of the UC Davis Health and Wellness Club for giving their time and insights into what makes their club so successful. This club is the result of students seeing a need and doing their best to fulfill it. It looks like they are already making a big difference in their community, but I will let them speak for themselves.
Thanks to Melissa…
1) Who are you (the authors)?
Melissa Rothstein, second year vet student at UC Davis, started the Health & Wellness club here with my classmates and our career, leadership, and wellness center.
2) When was the UC Davis Health and Wellness Club formed?
The club started during my first year, and became official in Spring 2015. We’ve had a Career, Leadership, and Wellness Center and a full-time counselor for several years, and they have been working really hard to promote mental health and other wellness services this past year.
3) Why was it formed?
We all saw a need for more resources for self-care and stress management to be available right on the vet campus so that vet students could easily access them. At first I wanted to do this because I knew how stressful the program would be. Then as we started building the club, I realized how many students (myself included) were getting really depressed and struggling with mental health.
4) What are some things the Health and Wellness Club does?
We have a facebook page where students organize group activities, like running, hiking, baking, and snowboarding. We also have a few regular weekly activities led by students, including yoga, meditation, and crafting. We have a kickbox instructor who comes once a week. Our Career, Leadership, and Wellness center organizes free massage days for students by working with the local massage school. They also provide a free breakfast for us every month or two where we can all get together and spend time with them and with each other. This year, we are having our first (hopefully annual) Spring Wellness Symposium, where we will have speakers, activities, and a lunch provided by a local health food restaurant.
5) What has worked really well? What is some feedback you have gotten?
We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from students. Some of the upperclassmen say that the climate has already changed for the better. When we poll students, some say that they don’t think the events make a difference, but most students express a lot of appreciation and feel that the events bring people together and make them feel cared for.
6) What are some things that haven’t worked? What are some struggles the club has faced in making changes?
There are definitely some people who are hesitant to talk about mental health and to acknowledge the extent of the challenges we face. It is important to not always focus on the bad stuff though, but that can get hard when focusing all the time on what’s wrong.
Interestingly, we’ve also had some students complain about the events, even though they are free and didn’t exist in the past.
There have also been some philosophical disagreements through the development of the club.
Finances and budgeting are one of the biggest hurdles. For example, our counselor is overworked but getting a second full time counselor will be a big financial challenge.
7) What areas of future work do you see?
I think ultimately the climate and the structure of vet schools need to change. As hard as we are working now and as much of a difference it has made, I think it will take a significant shift in culture to address the rate of mental health issues in the medical and caring professions.
8) What else would you like to tell other veterinary students?
Ask for help. Don’t stop fighting for your well-being and for a better structure and system for vet students. If you are struggling, you are not the only one. There are people who can help you, and ways we can all help each other.
…and thanks to Roxana!
Here are some things from my perspective; I went into the role of co president of the club with Melissa late last year, and so maybe I can shed some light on some of the things we did and some of our goals!
The goal of the health and wellness club at UC Davis is to shed light on the topic of mental health and wellness and foster programs and initiatives that create open dialogue for students and faculty to discuss these issues so that they are no longer taboo and so that people feel that they are in a positive and safe environment. It is also to provide a sense of community and togetherness so that no individual feels as though they are alone. The goal is also to provide resources and programs that students can use for both personal empowerment and also unity with their peers.
Some of the activities we have done to reach these kinds of goals include participating in the Each Aggie Matters campaign. This is a school wide campaign where students are able to pledge their support for the cause of mental health and wellness and/or share their own story of obstacles they are battling with or have overcome in their lives. These pledges and stories are shared with the veterinary school either anonymously or not (depending on what the student decides.) This ongoing activity has already received so much positive feedback from students and faculty and has allowed so many to feel comfortable opening up.
Another activity we held at the end of the school year was our first ever Health and Wellness symposium. This was a day in which stress-relieving activities were planned for students by students , such as yoga, kickboxing, arts and crafts, and meditation. We also had a post secret type of wall, and a faculty panel in which our very own faculty discussed their own obstacles they’ve had to overcome and how they did so. Considering it was the first time we hosted an event like this, it turned out to be a huge success and also received positive feedback! The post secret wall really helped bring to light the kinds of things students are struggling with which was eye opening to many.
Some other things we do is collaborate with our schools Career, Leadership, and Wellness center to put on activities like massage day where students can receive free massages, and wake up for wellness where students receive goodies like donuts and coffee right before class.
I truly believe that all of these activities have already risen so much awareness about mental wellness at UC Davis and have allowed students AND faculty to feel more open with one another and seek help if needed. I am so happy to be a part of it and I look forward to the club continuing to promote these things in the coming year!