Saturday, May 30, 2015

Do power breaks increase productivity and mental health?

Have you ever wondered what kind of instruments a horse dentist might use? As a small animal vet I am not called upon to perform equine dentistry, but these gents were happy to share their wisdom. 
It’s difficult to sum up the feeling of spending over a week with over 1000 colleagues from Australia and New Zealand. My mind is buzzing with so much new information and some insights into where our profession is headed. Since this is the weekend I thought it would be a bit easier to summarise in pictures, although here’s an interesting gem I wanted to discuss.

Towards the end of the conference delegates can choose workshops to attend. There were so many choices, and I wanted to go to about ten of these…animal behaviour (this group got to go to the RSPCA and clicker train shelter dogs, and donate treat-filled Kong’s to them), backyard chooks (I see more and more of these in the clinic), wound management (you would be amazed at the sort of wounds vets can treat) and dentistry (I always get something out of a dental workshop). But I chose the First International Symposium on Veterinary Mental Health.

The First International Symposium for Veterinary Mental Health & Suicide Prevention was held in Brisbane.
The organisers were worried around 12 people would turn up. They needn't have worried. The room was full – and people were watching the livestream from around the world.

When Dr David Bartram just happened to sit next to me at lunch, I had to get a fan pic. He politely obliged. It is always a bit of a thrill meeting someone whose papers you have read, and nicer still when they practice what they preach. (And more so when they don't run screaming when you tell them you've read all your papers and want a fan pic!!!) I asked him which afternoon sessions he was going to and he said he was going to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. Ahhh. Something in that for all of us! (I should clarify that he wasn't wagging lectures - he had come early).
My impression from the day, which was very educational, is that the rate of suicide is higher in vets not so much because of inherently vetty things, but because of access to the means. As mental health campaigner Brian McErlean says, “vets have a gun in the house”. We absolutely don’t have a monopoly on depression, anxiety, relationship issues, interpersonal conflict etc.

Looking after vets: Dr Randall Lemin, Dr Brian McErlean and Dr Helen Fairnie-Jones promoting the Australian Veterinary Association's benevolent fund.
So much of the advice about promoting mental health applies to everyone. And one of the tips is the concept of a strategic break. Overworking is carried like a badge of honour in our society. But it’s counter-productive. Studies (and since it’s the weekend, no, I don’t have these to hand!) have shown that taking a 10-15 minute “power-break” or “strategic break” every 90-200 minutes increased productivity and mental health. But which margin I know not. Although the organisers suggested why not run some controlled trials in vet clinics and see what happens?

Dr Peter Hatch, veterinary mental health researcher, discussed reported workplace stressors for vets.
The rule is this: the break has to involve ENTIRELY work-unrelated stuff. You could play darts, go for a walk, eat, drink or talk to someone but not about work. Nice idea!!!

The best conference shoes award goes to Dr Karen Teasdale, of whom I am now a fan. Not only did she have the shoes, she had the dress and hair and makeup down pat. Every single day.
We will be back to our regular posting schedule next week. 

The AVA Wellness stand displayed books written by Australian vets. I've read Dr Kirkham's excellent book (for review and not personal purposes), but the others are now on the list.
Congratulations to the Australian Veterinary Association and the New Zealand Veterinary Association for what, in my experience, was the best national conference to date.