This week (10-16 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, an annual event providing an opportunity to focus on achieving good mental health. In this blog post helping to mark the week, we explore our Space from COVID programme, which is helping people manage their mental health through the pandemic, talking to Professor John Sharry, who led its development.
As the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020 and the mental health and wellbeing of people all around the world and their health services were placed under huge pressure, colleagues at SilverCloud Health moved quickly to respond.
Led by Professor John Sharry, Clinical Director and Co-Founder of SilverCloud Health, the team developed a new, targeted online programme to help people as they tried to navigate through the COVID crisis.
Professor Sharry’s team drew on their extensive experience of dealing with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions and best practice thinking in how to deal with crisis situations and how they impact on mental health. Within a few weeks they built the Space from COVID programme, a six-module online package, addressing issues people were experiencing due to the pandemic.
Each module provides clinically backed support for trouble sleeping, coping with stress, developing mindfulness, financial worries and experiencing grief and loss. Like all SilverCloud programmes, it is packed full of world-leading thinking on how to manage through mental health difficulties and contains lots of practical tools, tips and suggestions.
Although the programme was pulled together at speed to support people in the middle of the pandemic, it followed the usual rigorous process of design and testing, including with front line health workers, that has underpinned SilverCloud’s 18 years of clinical and academic research.
Professor Sharry recently reflected on the programme and its objectives: “We know that during the pandemic there is a lot we cannot control and so we try to help people focus on the things we can control – including how to respond to what is thrown at us. The aim of the programme is to help people manage better in the moment and is not about going back to the old normal as that is not possible.
“We provide users with a wide range of tools and techniques which they can try to build into their daily lives – into their everyday routines. A lot of what we recommend is common sense but not always common practice and focuses on self-care and on trying to calm yourself if you are feeling stressed.”
The programme is extensive in the ground it covers, recognises that each of us will be impacted differently by the pandemic but there are some key messages relevant to all users.
- Acknowledge what’s happening - recognising that this is a stressful and difficult time and that it’s ok to be feeling anxious – anxiety is there to help us survive an emergency.
- Self-compassion – compassionate self-talk is anything supportive, kind, helpful, caring, encouraging or soothing you say to yourself. We encourage users to ‘talk to yourself as if you were talking to someone you love dearly’.
- Reach out for support and build and maintain social connections - in a time of crisis staying connected to your social network is especially important. We know that maintaining this network can be challenging but research suggests that the happiest, most satisfied people are those who regularly support and help others.
- Self-care - airlines advise you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping other people. The same idea goes for self-care - you need to look after yourself first, in order to be there for other people. Self-care includes looking after your health and spending time on activities that you enjoy and provide you with comfort and happiness.
- Journaling – getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper can be a hugely helpful way of calming your mind and acknowledging your feelings.
As we entered into the second year of the COVID crisis, Professor Sharry reflected further on the moment we are living through:
“This is not a time to beat yourself up but to acknowledge how you are feeling and reach out for support. We hope that this programme can be part of the help that can make a difference for people in this difficult moment, not waiting for things you can’t control to change.”
SilverCloud is offering this dedicated COVID programme completely free of charge and for anyone to use. The average module takes 30 minutes to complete and is accessible 24/7 from a smartphone, tablet or computer.
To find out more and to access the programme