- Take any distress seriously – it can be very hard for veterinary professionals to reach out for help so if someone is showing distress that’s always important.
- Ask how you can help – people may want support in different ways at different times.
- Show trust and respect. Mental health problems can cause a massive loss of self esteem, and make the unwell person feel like they are professionally worthless. Counter these thoughts by letting them know that they are valued, and helping them to rebuild their sense of worth.
- Listen to how they are feeling – make sure you’ve got time to do this and a quiet place to talk where you won’t be interrupted.
- Avoid clichéd positivity. If someone is really struggling it’s better to acknowledge that and to listen to how it feels than to tell them “cheer up” or “pull yourself together”.
- Don’t just talk about mental health – mental health problems can leave people isolated.
- Spend time with the person and offer to do things together that might help like exercise, walking their dog, a bike ride or cooking and eating together.
- Be patient – let the person stay in control where possible and set the pace for getting help themselves. It may take time, let them know that you are there for them and check in with them again. A depressed person may struggle to connect emotionally or lash out in anger and say hurtful things – try not to take it personally.
- Support them to get other help if they need it – Vetlife Helpline and Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on every day of the year including Christmas and New Year. There are also emergency GP services and A&E if you think someone is very unwell. See: In a crisis? If you’re very worried about someone and think they are at risk stay with them and make a plan with them about how they can get help.
- Look after yourself as well – make sure that you are looking after your own wellbeing and have support for yourself. Vetlife Health Support is able to give professional advice to anyone concerned about a colleague in complete confidence.
Finding the right words
Samaritans advise that the best thing you can do is to ask questions.
- Questions that help someone talk through their problems instead of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are the most useful
- Pay attention and focus only on them. Showing someone who might feel they have nobody, that there is someone who cares and wants to give them the listening ear they need, can be really reassuring
- Show you understand by asking follow-up questions or repeating back the key things they tell you during the conversation. Use phrases like ‘So you’re saying…’ or ‘So you think…’
- Find out how they’re feeling too. Sometimes people will talk you through all the facts of what happened and why, but never say how they actually feel. Revealing your true emotions to someone can be a huge relief
Some possible ways to start a conversation are:
- “I have been feeling concerned about you recently.”
- “You seem pretty down lately so I wanted to check if you are OK.”
- “How can I best support you?”
- “Have you thought about getting help?”
- “You are not alone. I’m here for you.”
- “I may not understand exactly how you feel but I care about you and want to help.”
- “Is there anything I can do now to help you?”