A survey of Royal College of Physicians’ fellows and members earlier this year revealed that more than one-in-four doctors have sought mental health support during the pandemic. Taking care of your own mental health, and those around you, is key to giving patients the best level of care.
Dr Pablo Vandenabeele (right), clinical director for mental health at Bupa UK Insurance, shows how to make your practice a supportive environment.
When we think about ‘mental health’, we often think about mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety.
But, like physical health, we all have times when our mental health is good and also times when it affects our overall well-being.
As healthcare professionals, we have a really important role in supporting the well-being of our practice teams and colleagues and being advocates for good mental health in the workplace.
Ways to do this include improving working practices, encouraging your team to speak openly and reassuring them of the support they need. Guidance is available to help you do this correctly.
Mental health challenges
Workplace issues such as uncertainty, lack of control and a demanding role can all lead to changes in mental health and are linked to the development of common mental health conditions.
The new challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic have added to this, with many people facing added stress and anxiety, both at work and home.
Additional pressures it has created include:
- Coping with a significant increase in patients;
- The emotional strain of losing patients to Covid-19;
- Adjusting to changes in working practices, such a carrying out video consultations and the resulting lack of human contact;
- Fears about the risk of contracting the virus from patients and infecting family members.
It is common knowledge that even in normal circumstances, healthcare professionals experience higher levels of work stress than the general population and the pandemic has exacerbated this.
A BMA survey of 6,550 doctors across the UK last October found that more than two-fifths said that their mental health is now worse than before the pandemic.
They reported they were currently experiencing work-related depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress and other mental health conditions.
All this may be particularly difficult for those with pre-existing or previous mental health conditions, as well as being a trigger
for mental ill health for the first time.
We need to take our mental well-being and that of our practice teams and colleagues seriously now rather than wait until we reach crisis point.
Aside from the immediate impact on our practice, our ability to cope and to offer our patients safe care, we need a healthy workforce to ensure our healthcare system functions properly in future.
The benefits of supporting your team’s mental health
Creating a positive environment where employees can talk openly about their mental health reduces the stigma of mental ill health. It leads to more understanding and a greater likelihood that employees will seek support early.
It is much easier to support employees at an earlier stage than waiting until they reach crisis point.
Mental health conditions are the leading cause of long-term sickness absence. Effectively supporting employees experiencing a change in their mental health means you can retain them and help them thrive.
Common mental health conditions
Understanding how mental health conditions manifest themselves is helpful in being able to effectively spot when an employee may need some support.
Here’s a reminder of some common mental health conditions:
Anxiety disorders: Anxiety is a feeling of unease. We all get anxious when faced with stressful situations and it is normal to feel anxious when we face something new or unknown. But if someone has anxiety that has lasted a long time and it is severe, it will affect their everyday activities.
Depression: Everyone has ups and downs. It’s common for people to say that they are ‘depressed’ when they are feeling low. However, if the sadness becomes persistent and a person loses interest in life, affecting how they think or behave, it’s possible they have depression.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder with two key parts: obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are intrusive and unwelcome images, urges, thoughts or doubts that repeatedly appear in a person’s mind.
Compulsions are activities that they feel they must do to reduce the discomfort caused by the obsessive thoughts. If a person does not act on the compulsions, their anxiety or mental discomfort becomes distressing and unmanageable.
Signs to look out for
Everyone’s experience of mental health is different and can change at different times. As a leader, it is important to get to know your team and understand what they need and when.
Understanding the signs of poor mental health means you will notice when to check in and start a conversation about how a practice team member or colleague is coping.
Some early signs might be:
Being easily distracted;
Finding it hard to make decisions;
Feeling overwhelmed by things;
Tiredness and lack of energy;
Talking less or a flat, slow way of speaking;
Avoiding social activities;
Talking more or talking very fast, jumping between topics and ideas;
Finding it difficult to control emotions;
Irritability and short temper;
Sources of support
More information and resources on mental health and well-being for managers are available on Bupa’s website at:
Mind – www.mind.org.uk
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development – www.cipd.co.uk.