Mental health is a common term used every day, but this was not always the case. When I was young and even in my younger adult years, we never heard the term mental health, let alone knew what it was. Things have certainly changed for the better over the years.

I can put my hand up and say that I was a sufferer and at times and I face challenges with my mental health daily, something that time and talking have really helped with.

Mental health, although talked about a lot, is still a taboo subject for many, and sometimes within a workplace setting the subtle signs that someone is suffering can be missed.

As the old saying goes “a smile can hide a thousand problems”, in a lot of mental health cases this seems true.

As a veterinary nurse, chronic health sufferer, and supporter of good workplace mental health I decided I wanted to complete a further qualification to provide help and support to others, like me, who just needed a little time or a sympathetic ear to listen.

I looked at many mental health courses, but the one I chose came up when I was looking through the chronic illness campaign on the British Veterinary Nursing Association website. There was a link to click on and it took you straight through to the Learning Curve Group website where you could register for a free certificate in mental health first aid in the workplace.

So, what did the course involve?

3 sections;

Exploring mental health – different types of mental ill -health and the factors that affect individual sufferers, along with ways of dealing with these issues.

How to support individuals – different ways to assist and deal with individuals suffering from mental health problems whilst also protecting your own mental health.

Mentally healthy environments – understanding mentally healthy environments, legislation relating to mental health and the use of wellness action plans.

The entire course was completed online but I was assigned a tutor to guide me through the process and answer any queries I had. There was a lot of information to read through, followed by assessments relating to the information they give you and reflecting on your own experiences in your private life and work life.

The tutor offered feedback at every stage and was supportive and encouraging throughout which helped the process run more smoothly.

I soon realised only part way into the course that my knowledge of mental health was nowhere near what I thought it was and I needed to read the information they provided and not skim through it. I did however have enough experience with mental health and how it affects people within a workplace so was able to draw on some of my experience for this.

Being able to recognise the signs of someone struggling with mental ill- health is a vital part of being to provide the correct help and guidance for that individual and often sufferers are not ready to speak up and ask for the help they need.

This is when a mental health advocate within a veterinary practice is so important BUT and this is a big but – it needs to be the right individual.

With that in mind, I have come up with a list of qualities for a mental health advocate;

– Good listener

– Understanding

– Nonjudgmental

– Nonopinionated

– Open

– Good communicator

– Knowledgeable of the subject

– Ability to show empathy to others

There are many more, most of which veterinary nurses possess, which is a given as a caring profession.

I managed to complete the course within a few months and was pleased to receive my certificate through the post within a month. It is a regulated course with Northern Council for Further Education (NCFE) who are a nationally recognised awarding organisation which means the qualification is valid and recognised by employers. Always a bonus of a funded course in my eyes.

Since completing the course, I have become the mental health advocate in our practice as well as now sitting on BVNA Council as the mental health & wellbeing team coordinator, working towards highlighting mental health issues within the veterinary nursing industry and providing relevant and valid information for nurses to access to move forward through mental health issues.

Before I completed the course, I thought my knowledge of mental health was good, however now I realise I was only just scratching the surface on mental health. I now realise how important maintaining good mental health is and encouraging others to do the same is now my passion.

Have that cup of tea, take that break, go to the loo – if these are not done – each can impact our mental health significantly over time.

So, if like me, you know some, or little about mental health but want to know more I would recommend this course to increase your knowledge base and give you an insight into good and poor mental health. I hope I have provided a little food for thought.

Becky Winter RVN CC Dip A Phys

BVNA Council Member and Mental Health & Wellbeing Team Coordinator

If you are a veterinary professional and need some confidential support please visit;

You can also contact the Samaritans on;…/contact-samaritan/

Take a look at our Chronic Illness Toolkit here.