Kendra Elliott, WCVM veterinary student, takes part in the Cat Yoga on Mar. 6. Photos by Taryn Riemer

Bringing mental health awareness to the forefront

Since veterinarians and vet students are in a caring profession that’s so affected by mental illness, I find it important that we also care for ourselves and each other.

Throughout the month of March, students, faculty and staff have a chance to do this — thanks to the Mental Health Awareness Month, organized by the Western Canadian Veterinary Students’ Association.

And trust me, it’s important to take part.

I was diagnosed with depression during my undergraduate program, and I’ve suffered from anxiety during vet school. Looking back the anxiety wasn’t anything new, but the stress of this program affected my life much more negatively.

It’s been a struggle – some days are worse than others — but I’m making it through.

On a tough day, I always like to think back to what my professor, mentor and friend Dr. Patrick Jackson (Dr. J for short) encouraged students to do. He told us, “Be well. Your mental, physical and emotional health is more important than any grade, test or deadline.”

This has become my motto for my mental health journey and for vet school. And since we lost Dr. J to cancer in 2015, his advice has become even more relevant to me. I have learned to adjust my perspective: perfection isn’t necessary, knowing absolutely everything is impossible, and that is okay. Learn what you can, do how you do and improve for the next time.

During this month, I really encourage you to take part. For instance, we’ve planned some great lunch talks for each Thursday and yoga sessions for each Tuesday – including some with pets! We also have set up “Profs and Pets” sessions for most days. Students can stop by faculty members’ designated offices and get some pet snuggles during a visit. Conversations can be about mental health or not — it’s fairly informal.

There are lots of other wonderful events happening this month — make sure to check out the bulletin board by the college’s buffeteria for the full schedule. But once Mental Health Awareness Month is over, that doesn’t mean your self-care should stop. One thing I’ve committed to is attending pottery classes: I took it as a course during my undergraduate program, and I’ve made the time to pick it up again this year. It’s a nice way to “escape” for a couple of hours each week, and it helps me to think about something else other than school work.

I’m also taking the Mindful Veterinary Practice elective course with Dr. Trisha Dowling, and I have learned many new skills to help my mental health. And finally, don’t forget to get out and be active! I like to do intramural volleyball, and it makes me get out and exercise at least once a week.

Whatever you do, just pay attention to how you’re feeling and don’t be afraid to reach out. We’re all here to support each other — that’s what this month is all about.

Kendra Elliott of Cromer, Man., is a third-year veterinary student at the WCVM.

Students took part in the Cat Yoga Mar. 6 as part of the Mental Health Awareness Month at the WCVM.
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