Improving the mental wellbeing of doctors and medical students

Read about our work to improve the mental health of the profession, including during and beyond coronavirus, new research and our wellbeing charter.
Updated: Wednesday 20 May 2020
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Supporting mental health now and beyond COVID-19

As the UK eases lockdown and the number of COVID-19 cases continue to fall, NHS workers will continue to be on the frontline of this pandemic risking serious illness of themselves and their families - potentially storing up trauma for the future. It is likely that the worst of the mental health consequences on the NHS workforce may be yet to come.

The BMA has developed a set of ten recommendations to be addressed to protect staff now and in the future.

Our charter for mental wellbeing

Our charter provides a basis for positive change within the place of work and study, drawing from research and the involvement of medical students and doctors.

It sets out the important practical steps we want employers to take to:

  • build a supportive culture
  • develop a wellbeing strategy
  • create healthy workplaces
  • tackle the stigma around mental ill-health
  • foster peer support
  • ensure support services are accessible and of high-quality
  • ensure services have the confidence of those they are intended to help.

The BMA is asking employers to sign up to the standards in our charter. Additionally, if you want to help us promote a supportive culture and a healthy working environment for doctors, get in touch with your local BMA representative.

Research into the mental health and wellbeing of the medical profession

Following the first ever BMA survey of doctors’ and medical students’ mental health in Autumn 2018, we commissioned in-depth independent research to understand the risks for poor wellbeing, the perceptions of mental health in the profession, and the experience of doctors and students in most need of support.

What the research tells us

Participants were clear about the biggest threats to medical professionals' wellbeing and the areas in which they expected to see system-wide changes.

These included: working within a health system under pressure; the tension of rising patient demand and understaffing; and inflexible and unsupportive working arrangements, including for those whose health had already suffered.

Within the profession there also remains a stigma of mental health and fear of judgement, a lack of workplace amenities for wellbeing, and a need for greater peer-led support.

BMA survey of doctors' and students' mental health

The BMA began research of the mental health and wellbeing of the medical profession when, in October 2018, we led a UK wide survey of doctors and students. 

The survey showed that around three in 10 respondents had experience of being diagnosed with a mental health condition and nine in 10 stated their working, training or study environment had contributed to their condition.

Personal stories: doctors in training with experience of mental illness

The BMA has published unique insights into what it is like to experience mental illness during a doctor’s trainee years. Independent research by academics at Swansea University found that some participants in the study had continued working even though they knew they were ill and sometimes after they had been diagnosed and advised to take sick leave.