Prioritising mental health while practices are closed

Practices are closed to all but urgent and essential eye care, and many optometrists are finding that they’ve got an unusual amount of time on their hands

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With an increase in calls to the AOP’s Peer Support Line and a spike in the number of people reporting depression and anxiety since the COVID-19 lockdown began, it’s a tough time for those working in the optical sector.

An AOP survey found members reporting a drop in their health and wellbeing during the lockdown, with the biggest concern being around themselves or their family contracting coronavirus (42.8%), followed by money worries (41.28%) and “general anxiety and stress” (38.28%). Members were also worried about their jobs (34.46%) and families generally (31.29%).

And yet, it’s clear that lots of optometrists are finding ways to cope. One theme we’re seeing is members developing a structured new routine, which features lots of CET and continued professional development training.

Shaneela Joshi, a locum optometrist and teacher in Manchester, has been using her time in this way. She told OT: “I have more days at home which I invest into my own learning, whether that be CET or CPD courses to develop my teaching skill set.

“Although there has been a national closure of schools, I am still teaching since the unit where I work caters for a vulnerable group. We provide a routine in the day, which I think is essential in managing mental health during these unprecedented times.”

Another locum optometrist, Andrea Mentlikowski, who is based in London, has been dealing with a diagnosis of anxiety that came just before the lockdown was announced. She’s focusing on the positives despite this, telling OT: “The upside of not working is I can concentrate on my daughter's home-learning. She's nearly eight and dyslexic, so I take this as an opportunity to give her the one-on-one attention she can't receive easily at school.

“It seems that life has been boiled down to the bare essentials; food, shelter and health. Hearing the stories of others, I feel incredibly fortunate my family has these in abundance.”

Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind, told OT that accessing nature (even if that only stretches to looking after plants or sitting near a window), regular communication with family, keeping hydrated and eating well are all also vital.

Exercise and nature are both things that Belfast ophthalmologist Tunde Peto has found herself valuing highly in recent weeks. She told OT: “It is very good to be able to get out of the house, on the bike, and get into the right mindset. On the way home, I push myself to the limit on the bike and refocus.

“We have been lucky with the weather, like the rest of the UK. It has been lovely and sunny. We have a little garden that is full of flowers, with bird feeders, so I go outside and watch the birds.”

Meanwhile, the AOP is doing everything it can to support its members through the hardships that they’re currently facing. Here are some services that you might be interested in using if you’re struggling at the moment:

  • The Peer Support Line, a free listening service designed to support anyone working in the sector, whether they are an AOP member or not
  • Our series of webinars, which aren’t strictly mental health-focused but are designed to alleviate concerns you might have around subjects including dealing with HMRC, providing emergency care, and (if you’re a student) the legal matters around registration
  • This webinar, from April, which is mental health focused and deals specifically with strategies for managing it during the COVID-19 crisis

Additionally, if you want to use this time to gain more CET points (or even just practice some old exams) you can do so with our new CET and skills guides education hub.

The main thing, though, is to remember that you are not alone. If you feel like the situation is getting too much, please don’t hesitate to contact the Samaritans.

OT  asks...

Do you feel like your mental health has been negatively affected by the current situation?
  • Yes

    120 56%
  • No

    76 36%
  • I'm not sure

    15 7%