Health and wellbeing app supports NHS staff

My Possible Self used in University of the Highlands and Islands study to boost NHS staff wellbeing during COVID-19 pandemic

The health and wellbeing app includes a virtual nurse, Iona, who provides support and guidance to staff

A new digital intervention developed by mental health app designer, My Possible Self, in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and NHS Highland has rapidly reduced depression and anxiety and increased wellbeing among health and social care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New pilot research funded by the Chief Scientist Office at the Scottish Government showed the intervention to be useful over just four weeks and suggested the approach could be used more widely to support NHS staff wellbeing.

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

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

New features include a fictional nurse called Iona who provides virtual support to participants and guides them through the intervention with helpful text and email reminders. There are also tailored characters and storylines to encourage engagement.

We found that existing, validated digital interventions can rapidly be modified and tailored to a specific context or groups, which creates opportunities to also support other NHS staff working through the pandemic

The first two weeks of the intervention focused on building resilience and the character strength of gratitude, while the second two weeks focused on dealing effectively with low mood and anxiety.

And retention rates stood at 77% at two weeks and 63% at four weeks.

A pilot randomised control trial (RCT) – where the modified app was compared to a control condition – showed a statistically-significant reduction in anxiety and depression and an increase in psychological wellbeing, mental toughness and gratitude over a four-week period in a sample of NHS health and social care staff.

The researchers at the University of the Highlands and Islands said: “We found that existing, validated digital interventions can rapidly be modified and tailored to a specific context or groups, which creates opportunities to also support other health boards’ NHS staff working through the pandemic.”

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

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