Friday, June 19, 2015

Ten tips to keep your head in a good place: with Dr Brian Mc Erlean

Dr Brian Mc Erlean (right) with colleagues Julanne Frater and David Bartram at the First International Symposium on Veterinary Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
SAT is committed to promoting good mental health for veterinarians, nurses, technicians, students and the wider community. With this in mind we are very grateful to Dr Brian Mc Erlean (2015 National Life Award Winner, Suicide Prevention) for sharing his “10 tips to keep your head in a good place”.

  1. Exercise as much as you can. It is the best free medicine on the planet with no side effects. Any exercise is better than sitting.
  2. Get control of your mind. Most people have random and often negative thoughts biting at them on a daily basis. You can start with meditation just to clear your busy mind. Many veterinarians pass it off as alternative or say they can’t do it. If you have such a busy mind it may take weeks to learn to blank it for even a minute. It is vital to persist. is a good place to start.
  3. Another thing you can practise is throwing out any negative thought that comes in your head and replace in with a positive one. If you have that dreaded client coming in tomorrow,   replace that thought with your next holiday every time it pops up. After 3-6 months your brain will do it automatically and you will be in a great place. You might not need the holiday.
  4. If you write down three good things that happen each day and read them back once a week you can raise your level of happiness significantly. You can do that on your phone if you are busy. This article is one, think of two more for today.
  5. Cultivate support structures. I have 5 male friends and I do not let a week go by without contacting them in some way. You have to work at it. What comes naturally to women takes huge effort from most men.
  6. Think tribe when it comes to mental health as that is where our mental health genes have been for the last 200,000 years. The tribe can be your workplace, home, family, club, association or sports team. People in tribes where everyone is accepted and supported do well.  People that lose their tribe through work relocation, overseas study, sickness, divorce, retirement or any other separating event can have issues. Isolation is dynamite for mental health.
  7. Feed your brain. Omega 3 and 6 are good for your brain. I put flaxseed in my cereal every morning and try to eat fish frequently. I could do a bit more for upstairs if I had a boat.  Junk food is not good for you or your brain.
  8. Do voluntary work of some form. You can do something for your veterinary association or do something in the community. It is very good for your head and you will make lots of new friends and improve yourself worth.
  9. Set goals and work at them.  This is one thing we do with depressed individuals. We encourage them to set goals and get direction.
  10. Use resources if you are struggling. Beyond Blue is full of up to date material on an endless variety of topics and you can download pdfs and booklets. Professor Martin Seligman tells us to be happy and fulfilled we need PERMA: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships that are positive, Meaning in life and Achievement. 

Books to look at: Flourish by Professor Martin Seligman; TheDepression Cure by Professor Stephen Ilardi; Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr Victor Frankyl.


(Dr Mc Erlean is not only a tireless campaigner for wellbeing in the veterinary profession, he is also a font of hilarious anecdotes from practice. I won’t reproduce any here but if you ever have the chance to talk with this man do not pass it up under any circumstances).