Dealing with Clients with Mental Health Issues

Facing clients with mental health issues

A thread came up recently on the Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify FB group regarding how to manage our clients’ mental health.  With mental ill health on the rise in the general population, we increasingly find ourselves facing clients with overt mental health issues and reduced coping mechanisms when their animal is unwell.  It can adversely affect communication and may in concerns for the welfare of both the clients and their pets.  Plus, it can leave us with a sense of responsibility and increased stress in our working life.

Rosie Allister, vet, researcher, Vetlife Helpline Manager and author of commented:

“A lot of people still believe the myth that if someone is talking about suicide they aren’t going to do it, which isn’t true. Talking about it indicates risk and is something to take seriously.

Listen and contact support

My approach to try to listen as much as I can, empathise with how bad things are, then say that I’m worried about them and I want them to be ok and get them help. I actually say all that as when someone feels that bad it can be surprising to people that someone wants to help. I ask if they’re going to be safe leaving, and if they aren’t I ask their permission to call someone like a friend or family member. I stay with them while I do that and if they are in an unsafe environment I wait with them somewhere safer. If they can’t think of anyone to call I ask if they have anyone professional supporting them, or if they are registered with a GP and if I can call them. If all those fail it can be emergency services, but again I get consent for that. I’ve never found that someone won’t consent.

Training can help

There is some really good training out there for lay people on supporting people who are suicidal. A key feature of all of it is getting support for yourself afterwards too. It’s a lot to process, and not something to carry alone. If there’s no-one about to talk with you can always call Vetlife Helpline. The person answering will very likely have been there too, and will get how tough it is in a hectic clinic to find headspace to process supporting someone in that situation.

A lot of this is just about being human, non-judgemental, and kind. It can take time, trust and lots of listening, and we need to have considered our own professional boundaries and legal responsibilities too. Listening, understanding and kindness are key. And support from our practices to make time and resource for that.

A number of organisations run general mental health based training like MHFA, or Samaritans training for businesses on supporting people who are distressed, or Mind do a lot of commercial training too.”

For bespoke training for practices please contact Rosie to discuss directly

Other tips included Blue Cross Helpline when discussing bereavement following loss of a pet.

CPC also offer counselling.

I attended the MHFA course run by RCVS MindMatters / BSAVA, which was a great starting point.

‪VDS training have a webinar entitled – ‘Helping Clients Deal with Their Emotions’