Professor Cathy Creswell has been awarded significant funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for the Topic Group's CO-CAT Study. Co-CAT is one of six projects to receive funding.
The new projects, worth a total of £2m, are funded by UKRI and NIHR in response to COVID-19, and will give a much-needed boost in support for research investigating the impact of the pandemic on mental health. They will focus on reducing the negative effects on the mental health of three at-risk groups: healthcare workers, children and younger people, and those with serious mental health problems.
The Co-CAT study, run by Professor Catherine Creswell's TOPIC Research Group, was one of six projects to receive this funding. It will evaluate an online therapy programme for children with anxiety problems to see if it is an effective remote alternative to existing mental health treatment services and could help treat anxiety problems during the COVID-19 pandemic. NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) face major challenges in delivering psychological treatments remotely. Furthermore professionals will need to access increasingly efficient treatments if referrals to mental health services increase as expected now social distancing measures have been relaxed and schools reopened. This research will evaluate a therapist-supported, online cognitive behaviour therapy with more than 500 children with anxiety aged 5-12 years and their parents and carers. The study will compare the online programme with current CAMHS provision to see if it is as effective and could save money.
Cathy Creswell, Professor of Clinical and Developmental Psychology (Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry) said,
We have seen increases in anxiety difficulties among pre-adolescent children during the pandemic and children’s mental health services are facing increased referrals. This trial will evaluate a potential means for services to provide rapid, remote, high quality support to families whose children are struggling with anxiety during and beyond the pandemic
Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI, said: “COVID-19 has brought challenges for us all, with frontline workers facing unprecedented pressure and many others, including children and people with existing mental health issues, struggling with the anxiety and loneliness that come with social distancing measures. At a time when we face a long and uncertain winter ahead of us, it’s more important than ever that we continue to look out for one another. These studies will help us identify the people most at risk so that support can be targeted where it is most needed during this difficult time.”
Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England and Head of the NIHR, said: "Mental health is one of the major challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions that have been needed to control it. This new research funded by the NIHR and UKRI will help us to unpick the mental health impacts in several vulnerable groups, so we can identify those at risk sooner and make sure they can get the help they need."
Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Nadine Dorries said: “The pandemic has been a difficult time for many of us, and it is vital we do all we can to fully investigate the impact that COVID-19 has had on our mental health. These projects will help us better understand how the pandemic has impacted on the mental health of people who have felt the effects of coronavirus most sharply: our healthcare workers, younger people and those with serious mental health problems.
“Taken together this research will strengthen the evidence base so that we know more about how these unprecedented circumstances affect mental health, to better target interventions and prevent serious mental health problems developing.”
This latest group of projects form part of a rolling call for research proposals on COVID-19, jointly funded by UKRI and the NIHR in response to the pandemic, and includes research on treatments, vaccines and the spread of the virus.