Medical and veterinary professionals launch new campaign to reduce stigma around mental health
Medical and veterinary professionals came together to launch a new campaign to reduce the stigma around mental ill-health and to discuss their experiences.
The parliamentary event, hosted by Kevan Jones MP (Labour, North Durham), saw the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ (RCVS) Mind Matters Initiative and the Doctors’ Support Network launch the ‘&me’ campaign to tackle mental health stigma in the medical and veterinary professions. The campaign is a year-long initiative which will showcase case studies from established members of the professions who have themselves experienced problems with mental health, and will encourage others to come forward and seek help.
The campaign was set up partly in response to evidence that shows medical doctors and veterinary surgeons have higher suicide rates than the general population, but that they also often have more reluctance to seek help because of the impact it may have on their career.
At the event, Kevan Jones, who has spoken out previously about his own mental ill-health, reminded the audience of the importance of talking about mental illness:
"I first spoke about my mental illness in the Chamber in 2012. I suffer from depression, and had a major breakdown in 1996. What I would say about depression and mental illness is that it's an equal opportunity condition; it doesn't matter how wealthy you are, how intelligent you are, or where you are in society, it can affect anyone."
He added: “Try to get mental illness out of the dark corners rather than being ashamed to talk about it. That is how we get people to help themselves with their own condition and to seek help. The other key thing is not to write people off if they have a mental illness.”
He described the initiative as "fantastic" and stressed the importance of normalising depression in conversation.
"What we need to do is to just keep talking about mental health so that it's as common day as anything else. If anyone in this room broke their leg or got cancer, I'm sure your mantelpiece would be groaning with get well cards. If you were off with depression or mental illness, I doubt whether you'd get a single card. What I want is to do is to get the mantelpiece groaning just as much if you suffer from mental ill health, as if you suffer from physical ill health. Please, please, please just keep talking about it."
Dr Louise Freeman, Vice-Chair of the Doctors’ Support Network, who was diagnosed with depression in 2009 following a bereavement, said she believed the '&me' campaign has the propensity to help normalise mental ill health for healthcare professionals, and therefore remove some of the barriers to unwell professionals seeking help at an earlier stage. She concluded by saying: "Overall this would be better for healthcare professionals, their colleagues and their patients.”
David Bartram, Director of Outcomes Research for the international operations of the largest global animal health company and a member of the RCVS’ governing Council, then told the audience he had attempted suicide following the breakup of his marriage. He attributed his recovery and mental wellness to, among other things, a mixture of medical treatment, psychological therapies, supportive friends and family, rest and time – they all contributed, probably in similar measure.
"I just thought I was stressed – after all, who wouldn’t be in those circumstances? But in fact I was becoming progressively more unwell. What started as worry, early waking and palpitations – which I recognised as symptoms of stress – led to patterns of thinking that I did not recognise as being disordered. I felt trapped and worthless – suicide was the only escape. From a medical perspective, my biological, social and psychological risk factors had converged and tipped me into major depression.
“That was the first of multiple suicide attempts and several prolonged stays in hospital. Over a three-year period I spent 12 months as a psychiatric inpatient. I was treated with antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilisers, talking therapies and electroconvulsive therapy.”
He added that while his episode of mental ill-health does not define him it has changed him in a positive way and that no one is immune from it.
Veterinary surgeon Neil Smith, who chairs the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative, then concluded the event by outlining how to participate in the campaign:
“This event is just the start… the real challenge is to get this message out to the wider professions. Stigma is a difficult thing to tackle, but the good news is that every individual has the power to change our own minds,” he said.