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Digital platform exposes depression risk among Covid patients

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The mental wellbeing of patients recovering from Covid-19 is low enough on average to require assessment for depression, data from users of a digital health platform shows.

Measured against the WHO-5 wellbeing scale created by the World Health Organisation (WHO), patients with Covid-19 reported on average significantly lower feelings of wellbeing in the study.

The data was collected via a questionnaire sent to patients using the my mhealth Covid Virtual Ward – which enables the safe management and monitoring patients with the virus at home or in a care home. It was collated as part of a partnership with SilverCloud Health.

The average score was in the WHO’s “poor” wellbeing category – low enough to suggest that Covid has had a significant impact on wellbeing and that the respondents may benefit from further support and assessment.

The average score amongst the 65 respondents was 50.45 – compared to the good wellbeing baseline of 70 on the WHO-5 scale.

The data also shows that 60 per cent of patients would welcome free access to digital tools supporting wellbeing. This 60 per cent also represented those with the lower wellbeing scores.

The research is the latest indication of the deep and long-lasting impact from the pandemic on physical and mental health. It comes amid the UK launch of a new initiative to support wellbeing.

Space from Covid, designed by psychologists and wellbeing practitioners, is being provided free of charge by SilverCloud Health, a digital mental health provider which works with 80 per cent of NHS mental health trusts in England.

Its aim is to offer a key aid to the UK’s recovery that acknowledges the “new normal” which has emerged as a result of the pandemic.

The programme offers online modules, based on cognitive behavioural therapy, to address the most common mental health challenges experienced in lockdown.

It provides coping strategies to address issues including trouble sleeping, coping with stress, financial worries and the experience of grief and loss.

Typically, SilverCloud Health’s online therapy is accessible after a GP or other NHS referral. Against a backdrop of soaring demand for mental health support across the UK during the pandemic and overwhelmed NHS services, however, the Space from Covid wellbeing support is being made freely available online to anyone aged over 18.

Dr Lloyd Humphreys, a clinical psychologist and head of Europe at SilverCloud Health, said: “We have seen an extreme rise in the last 12 months in demand for mental health support across the UK, and in relation to a range of common mental challenges that many people are encountering and never before experienced.

“We need to reach people quicker and earlier to help stop the descent from poor wellbeing into mental health.

“This new data provided by my mhealth shows that Covid-19 may cause a legacy of depression – a further indication of how far-reaching the impact is on mental, and physical health.

“We are in a new era of acknowledging that society’s recovery will take time to nurture and ‘Space from Covid’ has been designed to provide people with simple, accessible help based on cognitive behavioural therapy as they adjust to their ‘new normal’.”

Dr Simon Bourne, CEO at my mhealth, said: “The impact that physical health problems can have on mental health and wellbeing can often go unrecognised. This feedback from users of our Covid Virtual Ward demonstrates the need for programmes like ‘Space from Covid’ to be made widely available and promoted to all individuals who have been affected by this pandemic.

“This is just the beginning. We are very much looking forward to continuing a wider partnership with SilverCloud to treat patients with long-term conditions.”

The Space from Covid programme has the support of a number of health organisations; including Practitioner Health, the NHS’ free confidential advice service for NHS staff in England, suffering mental health and addiction difficulties. It is also backed by RCNi, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Royal College of Nursing.

Dame Clare Gerada, a practising GP, former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, and medical director of Practitioner Health, welcomed the programme being made available to all over-18s.

She said: “We are in the midst of an intense period of demand for help for those encountering difficulties with their mental health as a result of the pandemic, and the challenges and restrictions it has brought. This is being profoundly felt by individuals, as well as many health workers who are themselves suffering stress, anxiety and burn out.

“Digital mental health therapy offers highly effective support and guidance at scale, and at a pace determined by the individual. Making ‘Space from Covid’ available to everyone will play a substantial role in helping people manage their own personal recovery in the ‘new normal’.”

Among those to have benefited from the programme is Lee Wignall, 38, a graphics motion designer and editor, of Slough, Berkshire, whose long-standing issues with low esteem and anxiety were exacerbated during lockdown.

He said: “The impact from Covid has had a huge effect on everyone’s mental health. Some people have had a horrendous time of it.

“At the outset of the lockdown I found my anxiety started to flare up. I had low moods and was irritable and wasn’t dealing with my emotions in the right way, causing me to shout and have outbursts. Someone locally called social services and I was referred to the SilverCloud programme.

“I have found it very helpful in getting me to manage my emotions, particularly the idea of putting your thoughts in a courtroom-type setting where you try to get a perspective on your behaviour and why you have acted the way you have, whether it is justified, what the external influences are and how you can eliminate them.”

To access the programme go to: https://spacefromcovid.com/

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