A recent survey, presented at Academy at Home 2020, has demonstrated the impact that COVID-19 and its consequent challenges have had on the mental health of eye care practitioners, staff and optometry students. More than 60% of professionals and students reported that their mental health was worsening during the pandemic, and almost 40% reported symptoms of anxiety, depression or both during the pandemic. Researchers identified the top three factors that have negatively impacted mental health: (1) worries about family/friends being infected with COVID-19, (2) self-worry about being infected with COVID-19 and (3) social isolation. Study authors Yi Pang, OD, PhD, professor at the Illinois College of Optometry, and her student Connor Robbs, BS, shared their findings October 7, 2020 during a press conference, noting that outdoor activities, family time and exercise positively impacted mental health.

A 22-question survey was sent through social media and email to ophthalmologists, optometrists, staff and optometry students. The researchers collected data on demographics, stress level before and with COVID-19 (the last two weeks of data collected), positive and negative factors which impacted mental health by COVID-19 and screening questions for depression and anxiety. A total of 1,558 individuals (29.9% male and 69.2% female) from 49 US states (n=1,431) and Canada (n=127) responded to the survey, including 617 optometrists, 610 optometry students, 197 ophthalmologists and 134 eye care staff.

During Academy at Home 2020, Dr. Pang discussed survey findings that highlight the impact COVID-19 has on practitioners' wellbeing. 

Of the participants, 61.2% stated that COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health vs. 25.6% stating no impact and 13.2% stating a positive impact. The mean self-reported stress level increased significantly from 2.90 out of 5 before COVID-19 to 3.50 out of 5 with COVID-19. Before COVID-19, only 6.6% of the participants scored themselves at the highest stress level, which then increased to 21.9% with COVID-19. The study also noted that 21% of participants failed the depression screening questions and 34.7% failed the anxiety screening questions. Mr. Robbs noted that optometry students self-reported the highest stress levels before and during the pandemic among all groups.

Dr. Pang identified being a student, female, younger, Asian as well as the number of new daily COVID-19 cases in the state as risk factors for mental health disorders during the pandemic. Protective factors included more frequent interactions with patients and having a greater proportion of childcare responsibilities at home. “COVID-19 has had a negative mental health impact on two-thirds of those surveyed eye care practitioners, staff and optometry students, with self-reported stress levels having increased significantly,” Dr. Pang concluded.

Pang Y, Robbs C, MHOOS Study Group. Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in eye care practitioners, staff and optometry students. Presented at Academy at Home 2020, October 7, 2020.