Sir John Kirwan gives wellbeing advice to veterinary professionals

Published on 24 June 2024 

Sir John Kirwan has encouraged veterinarians, veterinary nurses, and allied health professionals to Do One Thing (DOT) every day that boosts their wellbeing.

Whether it’s surfing, knitting, playing the guitar, cooking or reading - having a mental health plan, and sticking to it, is essential to build a lasting strategy that will help with stress and anxiety.

Speaking at the 2024 New Zealand Veterinary Association Te Pae Kīrehe (NZVA) and New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association (NZVNA) conference, the rugby legend and mental health advocate challenged his audience to “do a DOT for your mental health today”. Once that’s done, he encouraged people to Do Another Thing (DAT) to help calm the brain and allow it to recharge.

During the presentations at Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre late last week, he acknowledged the long hours, stress, and workforce pressures experienced by many of our veterinary professionals. “Eighty-five percent of the world is burnt out,” he said. “We have so much information coming into our brains. Our jobs never finish, there’s no work-life balance anymore, there’s just work. We need to work out a plan to look after ourselves.”

Sir John spoke from experience, discussing his personal journey of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and how he reached out for help and support through family and an All Blacks doctor who told him it was “an illness, not a weakness”. He also highlighted the importance of connecting with a psychologist who is a good fit for you.

Through his experiences, he learned the most important thing we can all do is to have a mental health plan. This involves knowing the things that are good for your mental wellbeing and putting them into regular practise. “I connect with people and nature every single day,” he said. “I’m an active relaxer, so I go for a walk with my wife and the dog to reconnect; I cook and play guitar. When someone comes into my mind, I text them; and to switch off my brain, I read. It all helps my brain to recharge.”

Sir John told the profession that people need to look after each other and talk about mental health and wellbeing; take a preventative and community approach; take control back from technology; and discuss having a mental health plan with young people. He also recommended applying a worry map during stressful times by asking yourself: ‘What can I control? What can’t I control? What can I do? What can’t I do?’

“If you do a worry map, often only about two out of 100 worries are generally within our control,” he said. “Nowadays, if I start to worry, I have a plan in place. I understand when I’m starting to get burnt out and I can reset quickly. I just double up on my mental health plan. Every morning, I stand in the shower and wash my worries away rather than thinking about everything else. Then I have a coffee. You find you start looking forward to the shower and then the coffee, and in doing so, you’ve already done two things for your mental health.”

The 2024 NZVA & NZVNA Conference was attended by 825 delegates from across the country, and featured 81 exhibitor/industry partner stands.

“Your goal today is to start a mental health plan and do a DOT for your mental health,” he told the audience. “How often at the end of the day do you say, ‘I’m awesome?’ We have to celebrate ourselves every single day.”