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[p]This May, Anna and Gemma will be travelling the length of the UK.. by bike! They are taking on this 1000 mile cycling challenge in memory of a dear friend and colleague, Rita. Having funded the trip themselves, they are raising money for VetLife, a charity close to their hearts, which provides free and confidential support to members of the veterinary profession. They also want to increase mental health awareness, and the importance of looking after your mind as well as your body. [/p][p]One in four people in the general population will experience a mental health problem each year. By 2030, it is estimated that there will be approximately two million more adults in the UK with mental health problems than there were in 2013. There is evidence of elevated psychological distress in the veterinary profession, with higher levels of anxiety and depression; suicide rates are about four times greater amongst veterinary professionals than in the general population. Last year Vetlife responded to 2775 contacts on their helpline via phone and email.[/p][p][b]Rita’s story:[/b][/p][p]Rita was one of the best vets I have ever met. She was [i]so [/i]knowledgeable and always happy to share that knowledge chatting through a case, some results, a plan etc. She went above and beyond both for her own patients and clients, but also to help her colleagues. Never has there been a desk so frequently littered with cards, chocolates or flowers to say thank you for the wonderful job that she had done in looking after someone’s pet. She had an infectious laugh and was always able to brighten the mood and make the rest of us chuckle too. [/p][p]Rita had suffered with depression for many years, though as so often is the case, you would never have known. Devastatingly on 2nd July 2018 Rita lost her battle with depression and took her own life, leaving a huge hole in the lives of so many who adored her. [/p][p]We are doing this cycle in memory of our dear Rita. She had a wonderful love of adventure, and would have chuckled at the thought of us donning our Lycra and climbing those oh-so-many hills; so here’s to Rita![/p][p][br][/p][p][b]Gemma’s story: [/b][/p][p]The point of talking about mental health is to be honest – so here goes.. in the hope it may help even one person out there… [/p][p]Looking back, I had ups and downs throughout vet school but never allowed myself to acknowledge that it was anything more than being ‘a bit stressed’ – a veterinary degree is notoriously hard work, so of course I would expect to feel like this at times. Even when I found myself feeling overwhelmed and crying on a daily basis for weeks prior to my finals, I never considered that this could be anything more than exam stress, and the pressure I put on myself of ‘the end’ being in sight. Disappearing off to the Cook Islands to volunteer in a veterinary charity after graduation was an incredible experience, but still I found myself terrified at times and, not infrequently, in tears. I returned home and started my first ‘proper job’ as a vet. Despite it being an incredibly supportive practice, and looking back I don’t think you could have had it better as a new grad, I found myself going home feeling distraught each night. I was fortunate to be living with a wonderful colleague and her husband for that first month – and they really did save me with their kindness - welcoming me to their dinner table each night. That gave me a reason to stop feeling sorry for myself and pull myself together. As my experience in practice increased, my confidence grew and whilst feelings of stress and anxiety were no longer a daily occurrence.. they were never too far away. At one point I felt so low in myself I had a short stint on anti-depressants. At the time I was ashamed and embarrassed, and kept it pretty much to myself. These did help, and for a while I thought I was sorted. After a move across the country and a period of locuming, I found myself at my second permanent vet job – again in a great practice working alongside a team who quickly welcomed me into ‘the family’. Initially I settled in well and seemed to be coping with clinical work, with only intermittent worries and upsets here and there. However, 18 months into this position the black dog (not Percy!) raised his ugly head in a big way.. not only did I lose confidence at work, but my anxiety seeped into the rest of my life and was joined by depression. Again, something I did not feel comfortable to admit aloud at the time. I lost my love of life, my ability to laugh and smile. I found it difficult to find joy in anything, and found work incredibly tough. I was hiding in the toilets to cry, sobbing on my drive to and from work and felt like I was battling to survive to the end of each day. After appointments with doctors and a psychologist, trying CBT, mindfulness, speaking to VetLife, having coaching and doing a lot of self-analysis, I made the big decision to move away from clinical veterinary work. [/p][p]For me, it was the best career decision I have made to date - I still get to use my veterinary degree and the parts of vetting that I do enjoy. I am helping more animals than I ever would have in my consulting room, and have found a job that I love. I feel I have my life back again, and I am back to the old me. While my move into a different area of the veterinary profession certainly helped my recovery – I think it was an accumulation of everything which really helped me to feel better: acknowledging I was not well; talking to family, friends and professionals; mindfulness; and learning to slow down a little.. to take the time to enjoy my dog walk (yes this time my own dog Percy is the black dog in question!), to go on that bike ride, bake that cake etc.[/p][p]I hope by telling my story I can show someone out there that it is possible for things to get better, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Be kind to yourself, and to others – you never know what is going on behind the scenes. [/p][p]We are raising money for VetLife, which I believe provides an invaluable service to the veterinary community, where, as mentioned above, there is a particularly high prevalence of mental health disease. I rang VetLife several times when I was struggling, and each time they provided a supportive and listening ear, and our conversations left me feeling calmer and more settled in myself. [/p][p][br][/p][p][b]Anna’s Story:[/b][/p][p]It may sound like a cliché, but my dream from a young age was to be a vet. I have always been a focused and determined person and have been lucky to have a lot of opportunities in life. I worked hard at school and achieved my ambition of getting into college and subsequently qualifying as a vet in 2002.[/p][p]I would describe life thereafter as a ‘vet journey’, with a lot of ups and downs. Despite rigorous training, your first days as a clinician are inevitably challenging. A new workplace, new colleagues, new clients and a massive learning curve. Accepting that not every case has an happy outcome, that a definitive diagnosis is not always possible and that not every client will take your advice. That aside, I have made lifetime friends and unforgettable memories doing the job that I do.[/p][p]I understand the stressors of life in practice and that it is difficult not to take your work home with you. It is challenging to accept criticism from clients or come to terms with cases not resolving as you had hoped. I do my best in work-time, but try to keep a healthy work-life balance through hobbies and family life. However I am very aware that this is not always an easy and we need to look out for each other. Vetlife is a fantastic charity, understanding the particular challenges of working in a veterinary environment and giving support to those when they most need it. [/p][p][br][/p][p][b]Why VetLife?[/b][/p][p]We are funding this trip ourselves, so every penny donated will go direct to VetLife. In raising money for VetLife, we hope they can continue to provide their amazing support through their free and confidential phone and email service, available 24/7 to members of the veterinary profession. Whether someone needs a listening ear, or assistance in seeking appropriate help - VetLife provides both mental health support and financial assistance. They were also of great support to everyone in the practice following Rita’s death.[/p]