Supporting metal health and wellbeing during the coronavirus outbreak

NEWS - 22ND APRIL 2020

Hospitals and clinics within the HSMA are adapting to change and supporting the NHS in the fight against Covid-19. We shed light on the new measures being taken by the Nightingale Hospital and The Priory Group to provide mental health and wellbeing support during these challenging times

As governments all over the world implement necessary measures to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, including social distancing and guidance to stay at home, many are feeling anxious or worried about their health and that of the people close to them. While much of the focus so far has been placed on physical exercise, it’s also important to consider the impacts on our mental health and wellbeing. Research by the University of Sheffield and Ulster University shows a spike in depression and anxiety following the prime minister’s announcement of a countrywide lockdown on 23rd March. This means that, now more than ever, people are needing mental health support.

Specialist mental health facility the Nightingale Hospital and the Priory Group, an independent provider of behavioural care, tell us how they’re adapting to the current situation, in order to continue providing expert patient care.

Nightingale Hospital
“The current uncertainties are profoundly anxiety-provoking for many,” says Akthar Hussain, managing director of Nightingale Hospital. “Those with pre-existing mental health conditions might find themselves increasingly vulnerable and need immediate support. In addition, it is highly likely that there will be people who have never before accessed professional support for mental health, who now feel they need to.”

For Nightingale Hospital, the focus has been on offering people numerous ways in which they can access expert support remotely, including remote consultations with consultant psychiatrists, therapists and counsellors. Since the outbreak, the hospital has implemented a range of new measures fusing technology with evidence-based therapies, including moving almost 80 per cent of face-to-face therapies (group and one-to-one) to remote services and implementing the use of web-based platforms for consultations.

“We’ve been able to hold our group therapy programme via Zoom for our inpatients on our addiction treatment ward. This was a massive success,” Mr Hussain continues. “Group therapy is integral to the treatment we provide at Nightingale Hospital, for all mental health conditions, so coming up with a solution that observes social distancing practices during this time was pivotal. We’re delighted to announce we’ve been successful with this thus far.”

With many now relying on online platforms for news, updates and advice, the hospital is also regularly updating their social media channels to share useful content to help inform and reassure the public throughout these uncertain times.

The Priory
While the Priory Harley Street Wellbeing Centre is closed to protect both patients and staff, people can still access assessments and therapy remotely via the Priory Connect video therapy service and through Skype during the day, evening and at weekends. Research suggests that tele-therapy is at least as effective as in-person therapy, and allows people to get support while following any social distancing guidelines or quarantine restrictions.

“Priory Connect allows people to connect online to an expert therapist for one to one cognitive behavioural therapy via video,” says Joseph McEvoy, director of innovation and digital at the Priory Group. “We know some people are really struggling because of the unprecedented circumstances caused by recent events, but we hope this service will help. It may feel strange to begin with to ‘see’ a therapist in your house, but as the conversation progresses, people are increasingly comfortable with this and find that it suits them,” he explains. “Patients will benefit from the same high regulatory standards that they would receive across all of our Priory services, and will be treated by highly trained therapists, who are experts in their field. This means that as social distancing and social isolation become realities, people needing help for any mental health condition, including depression, anxiety, stress and trauma, won’t find themselves unable to access the mental healthcare they need.”

Mr McEvoy’s top tips on using tele-therapy:

Find a quiet space
If you’re accessing online therapy from home, try to find a quiet space and time that works best for you and your circumstances (for example, evenings and weekends). You could also consider getting outside for your sessions, as long as you have somewhere to go where you can have some peace and quiet while also following social distancing guidelines, such as a garden.

Another thing you can do to block out any background noise is to wear headphones during your sessions. Also, make sure you mute or hide any notifications that may pop up on your phone or device, so you’re not distracted.

Treat online therapy like a real face-to-face session
Speaking to a therapist online can feel strange, at least at first. However, treating your online therapy sessions like physical face-to-face appointments can help you to adjust quicker, so don’t hold back during your online sessions. Make sure you’re getting things off your chest in the same way you would during a face-to-face session.

Online therapy is also a good way to benefit from some human contact when you’re self-isolating or following social distancing guidelines. This can help you stay connected to the outside world, which can boost your mood and wellbeing. After all, humans are social beings, so really try to make the most of it.

Use your time online constructively
Commit to only spending time online for helpful reasons such as accessing therapy, doing online exercise, keeping in touch with loved ones, or accessing news updates from reputable channels. This will help safeguard your wellbeing during this difficult time.