Mental Health PPE
Stress. There seems to be no shortage of it these days. The demands on veterinary medicine have been increasing in intensity for quite
some time. Compound that with the difficulties created by COVID and we have a perfect storm for challenges with both physical and mental
Most, if not all of us are using a lot of personal protective equipment to safeguard our physical health. Masks, face shields, gloves, lab coats; some or all of it depending on the situation. We know personal protective equipment (PPE) makes a difference for our physical health.
What does this PPE do for our mental health though? Personally, I do not feel all the physical PPE in the world would help my mental health. As I put on that ‘armour’ to protect myself physically, I feel the drain on my mental health. Everyday the toll gets just a little more significant. What if we had a world of mental health PPE? What would that look like? What are the things we should be doing daily to make sure our mental health is as good as it can be?
Let’s explore some ideas we can use to help keep us as holistically healthy as possible!
Mental Health Professionals
My first level of mental health PPE is having a working relationship with a therapist. We need to remember that a therapist is not only useful in times of crisis or emergency. We often only look to these professionals during crisis times, but having an ongoing open communication line with them is important.
They can help us establish healthy processes and thought patterns, and they can help us learn to manage stress in healthy ways.
The veterinary medical field is tremendously stressful. The impacts of burnout and compassion fatigue are very real. We are all in this work because we love it. Too many of us leave it because of the impacts on our mental health.
If we prophylactically look after our mental health by accessing care from professionals, we can be healthy in this field of work for so much longer.
We advocate for prophylactic care in our patients all the time: regular physical exams, vaccines, deworming, bloodwork for health screening, early and regular dental care. It is time we start advocating for care of our mental health before we have a problem. It is good medicine, we
My second level of mental health PPE is a support network. Humans are social creatures. We are not meant to be alone. Having people in my life to go to who are safe and supportive is something I find very regenerative and helpful! An established support system has been proven to be helpful.
‘Research has shown that having a social support system can have a positive impact on your overall mental health, especially for women, older adults, patients, workers and students. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 was “a great deal of stress” and one is “little or no stress,” a 2015 survey found that the average stress level for people with emotional support in place was 5 out of 10 compared to 6.3 out of 10 for people without emotional support.’ (1)
Having people in your life you can lean on can make a significant difference. Pushing people away can happen during periods of intense stress but we need to remind ourselves that we are truly not alone.
My third level of mental health PPE is one of those things that is so easy to say but so hard to do. Maintain those healthy habits! What are they? Exercising, eating well, sleeping well, drinking plenty of water. These are things we are taught from when we are children. As we get older and stress of adult life mounts, these habits tend to fall by the wayside. It happened to me.
My first job as a technician I loved, and I poured my heart and soul into it. As I poured my heart and soul into it my healthy habits went out the window. I binge ate, slept at weird hours, and worked long hours not eating or drinking enough water. I ended up tired and gaining weight from the binge eating. A lot of weight.
It took me a long time to acknowledge that what had happened to me was about my mental health. I stopped prioritizing myself and my healthy habits.
So, I started making little changes. Going for walks, monitoring my water intake, going to bed at a decent hour, eating regularly and healthier. It seemed like such little changes at the time, but it made big changes in my life.
Am I good at it all the time, no. When I get stressed, often my healthy habits still get forgotten but I try to remind myself to reestablish
them sooner than before.
Related to this is trying to do everything in moderation. As healthy habits start to gather dust, unfortunately, in some cases, other habits and strategies to cope start to show. These can be too much caffeine or binge eating or can become significant concerns that require intervention. If at any time you feel you are struggling to cope, please reach out for care from a professional.
Remembering your healthy habits are important. Make sure to ask yourself how you are maintaining them.
My fourth level of mental health PPE is self-care! This is an activity that deeply makes you happy and content. It can be any number things; a walk in the woods, reading, yoga, art, really anything! The skies are the limit here.
It needs to be something that reduces your overall stress and anxiety.
If you have not found what that is for you, try activities and see what works. If you have that activity in your life, make sure to make time for it. It is as important as making time for a doctor’s appointment.
My fifth level of mental health PPE is kindness. We are so terribly hard on ourselves. I cannot count the number of times I have been hard on myself (well not just hard, I would even say mean) and I know I have heard others say the same.
We have what sometimes seems like infinite kindness for our patients and our clients. Please make sure to extend some
of that kindness to yourself.
Remind yourself you try your best every day and that is what matters.
Mental health is something that needs to be prioritized. Stress is abundant these days and it is not going to change. As we put on our physical PPE every day, we need to consider our mental health PPE and what we are using to protect ourselves.
Above all else, be kind to yourself. I am reminded of a quote from the Desiderata. It is a favourite of mine.
‘Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.’ (2)
Look after yourself and others. Be able to recognize the signs of a mental health crisis or emergency and reach out to available supports.
We are all a community and every single one of us are valuable and needed. Remember, you matter.