The rapid global spread of COVID-19 since the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 has necessitated signiﬁcant changes to our behavioural patterns and working practices, including self-isolation, physical distancing and lockdowns. Whilst this is critical to control the virus, it will affect our mental health and well-being.
Studies conducted during other outbreaks found that factors such as boredom, inadequate supplies and information, ﬁnancial loss and stigma can have negative psychological effects lasting several years. To understand how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting life in the UK, the Ofﬁce for National Statistics (ONS) has been collecting information on people’s experiences and opinions relating to the pandemic. The results give an insight into how our personal, home and work lives are changing and what the impact is on our well-being and the communities in which we live.
Over the course of the pandemic, the nature and extent of people’s concerns have understandably changed. At the time of writing, the latest ONS report (covering the week ending 2 August 2020) revealed that over 4 in 10 adults reported that the coronavirus was affecting their well-being. Common issues affecting people’s well-being identiﬁed in the ONS surveys include worry about possible job loss (14 percent), worry about the future (63 percent), feeling stressed or anxious (56 percent) and feeling bored (49 percent).
BEVA has run two COVID-19 impact surveys, with the second aimed at assessing the mental well-being of equine veterinary surgeons, equine veterinary nurses and veterinary students during the period of the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK in June 2020. The results indicated lower levels of mental well-being among equine veterinary surgeons and equine veterinary nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the situation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (as assessed by the results of the RCVS 2019 survey of the veterinary profession). Equine veterinary nurses appeared to be more likely to report lower mental well-being than veterinary surgeons, and furloughed veterinary surgeons reported lower levels of mental well-being than veterinary surgeons that continued working during the lockdown.
In view of the stresses associated with working or being furloughed during the pandemic, these results are perhaps not surprising, but they do highlight the importance of employers providing support to veterinary teams during such events. This is especially important given the well-documented high prevalence of mental ill-health in the veterinary profession, with relatively high risks of occupational stress, burnout, poor psychological well-being and an elevated rate of suicide.
Happily, of the employed veterinary surgeons that completed the BEVA survey, about 70 percent stated that they were satisﬁed or very satisﬁed with the support that their employer had been giving them during the pandemic, and only 30 percent were concerned or very concerned about their own personal health and risk of catching COVID-19.
For employers and managers to support a healthy life, they should pay fairly and offer lasting security, ensure good working conditions, enable a good work–life balance and provide training and opportunities to progress. The BEVA/BSAVA recruitment and retention in the veterinary profession survey carried out in 2018 supports these recommendations. The commonest reasons why respondents stated that they were likely to stay in their current jobs were team, location and family, whereas the most commonly cited reasons to leave were work–life balance, management and salary. Creating and maintaining a healthy and supportive team in a veterinary practice takes considerable time and effort.
BEVA can provide help and support in various ways, including our “Leg Up” coaching scheme that pairs those new to the veterinary profession with experienced equine vets who have undergone robust coaching training so that they can provide career-speciﬁc coaching in the UK.
As we adapt to the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting our colleagues both in our own practices and beyond is vital. We are united in a shared vulnerability to this invisible pathogen, and we must all learn from our experiences and help each other going forwards.