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App credited with reducing depression and anxiety amongst Highland staff during Covid lockdown


By Val Sweeney

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Dr Johannes De Kock led the research into the app at UHI.
Dr Johannes De Kock led the research into the app at UHI.

A new app developed in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and NHS Highland has rapidly reduced depression and anxiety among health and social care staff working throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

New pilot research funded by the chief scientist office at the Scottish Government showed the intervention, led by the team behind mental health app My Possible Self, has shown it to be useful over just four weeks, and suggested the approach could be used more widely.

Led by Dr Johannes De Kock, research fellow at UHI and clinical psychologist at NHS Highland, the study looked at the mental health of NHS Highland staff and measured psychological wellbeing, depression, anxiety and mental toughness.

Dr De Kock’s team worked with My Possible Self to modify the NHS-approved app with content specifically tailored to support staff.

New features included a fictional nurse called “Iona” to provide virtual support along with other tailored characters and storylines.

The first two weeks of the intervention focused on building resilience while the second two looked at dealing effectively with low mood and anxiety.

A pilot randomised control trial – where the modified app was compared to a control condition – showed a statistically significant reduction in anxiety, a reduction in depression and an increase in psychological well-being, mental toughness and gratitude over a four-week period in a sample of staff.

Retention stood at 77 per cent at two weeks and 63 per cent at four weeks.

Joanne Wilkinson, founder of My Possible Self, said: "The United Nations has warned of the risk of a major global mental health crisis as a result of the pandemic.

"The British Medical Association has highlighted the toll on doctors, many of whom are suffering from depression, anxiety, stress and burnout.

"We are very happy to have contributed to the UHI and NHS Highland Staff Wellbeing Project, which has demonstrated how our app can be tailored specifically to support the mental health of NHS workers at this extremely challenging time for our healthcare system."

NHS Highland health improvement specialist Elspeth Lee said: "The impact of living through the pandemic, including lockdowns, is taking its toll on everyone’s wellbeing.

"We would encourage people to acknowledge this, and to use tools such as this and other NHS-approved apps to help themselves, and to reach out for help if they require it."

A spokesman for the research team at UHI said: "We found that existing, validated digital interventions can rapidly be modified and tailored to a specific context or groups.

"This creates opportunities to also support other health boards’ NHS staff working through the Covid-19 pandemic."

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