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As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads to every corner of the world, fear, worry and stress have arisen in the population at large and particularly amongst certain groups such as older adults, care providers and people with underlying conditions.  Although measures implemented by governments – such as social isolation and quarantining – are helping to save lives, they have also led to an increase in loneliness, depression, substance abuse and other harmful behaviours.

How has the Department of Experimental Psychology risen to the challenge of providing resources and guidance for a range of different groups? The following information outlines our COVID-19 specific activities, including research studies and providing guidance and resources to the NHS, government and the general public.


Advising NHS England and IAPT Services


As NHS England’s Clinical and Informatics Advisor for IAPT, Professor David Clark and his colleagues at the Oxford Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma (OxCADAT) have been assisting NHS England and IAPT services to adapt to COVID-19 and prepare to deal with the mental health consequences. OxCADAT has been instrumental in advising the government on mental health issues/policies and in rolling out effective online treatment.

The OxCADAT team have created a wide range of resources to help therapists deliver therapy, including:  

  • a special COVID-19 Resources page on its free therapist resources website. Although many of OxCADAT’s resources were written with NHS clinicians in mind, clinicians in over 120 countries have accessed the website.
  • guides to help IAPT therapists deliver the key components of therapy remotely by video or phone
  • webinars for IAPT therapists as part of an NHS England series. 
  • a detailed therapist guide on how to treat PTSD following treatment in intensive care units, which is a timely resource as protracted stays in intensive care are an all too common experience for patients affected by COVID-19. They are also providing free resources for patients.


Supporting the Mental Health of Children, Young People and Families


Co-Space Research Study Investigates How Families are Coping During the Pandemic

Cathy Creswell, Polly Waite and the Emerging Minds Network have launched the UKRI-funded Co-Space Study to track children and young people’s mental health Co-Space Lead image2throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The study seeks to identify what advice, support and help can actually protect the mental health of children in the UK who are in school years foundation to the end of GCSEs. Parents/carers of children aged 4-16 years, and young people themselves (if aged 11-16 years), are asked to complete an online longitudinal survey. The group have also developed parallel studies for pre-schoolers (co-spyce) and for families in Ireland, Iran, South Africa and many more on their way, will be linking data up.

Cathy Creswell and the Emerging Minds Network have also been active providing resources to support mental health in children and young people, including: 


Oxford ARC Research Study Examines Resilence of 13-18 Year Olds During COVID-19

Elaine Fox and her group have launched the Oxford ARC Study (Achieving Resilience during COVID-19) to examine resilience in 13-18 year olds relating to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, along with indicators of worry and affective flexibility for a 12-month period. The study is international and seeks to identify what factors support resilient functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic in young people.

Elaine Fox and her group have also been active in providing training and resources to the eight UKRI-funded Mental Health Research Networks as they focus on supporting mental health researchers in relation to COVID-19, including:

  • developing a cross-network website with regular blogs and a repository of information from the networks on COVID-19 related research.
  • delivering webinars and training sessions to all the networks to help support their members in delivering their planned workshops and activities
  • working closely with research councils and other funders (e.g., Wellcome Trust, MQ) to inform decision and policy-making around funding priorities for COVID-related activities and beyond.
  • delivering webinars and creating podcasts to inform and encourage the networks to engage with open science practices wherever feasible. This will add in improving the reliability of an emerging interdisciplinary mental health science.


CORAL Study Investigates COVID-19 Risks Across the Lifespan 

Elaine Fox and Annabel Songco are the UK collaborators in the Coral Study, which is investigating how changes to everyday life during the pandemic have affected the well-being, social connections and mental abilities of people across the lifespan. Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on young people, adults, pregnant women and older people will help us predict what mental health support is needed now and in the future. The study is being run in Australia, the UK and USA.


Fostering a Parents’ Support Community

Alexandra Hendry, a Junior Research Fellow, is fostering a community of support for parents with very young children to try to mitigate some of the effects of social isolation due to COVID-19 restrictions on parental mental health, and to provide opportunities and ideas for activities to support their children' development. 


Research into Mental Health of Children and Adults Who Have Been in Care

Aoife O’Higgins, a postdoctoral research associate in Lucy Bowes' lab – together with a team in the History Department – are looking at the mental health and coping strategies of adults who have experience of care (e.g. foster care). They are using a short survey as well as inviting people to submit a diary entry (written, audio, video) inspired by prompts released every week, taken from historical diaries (mostly World War 2). 


COVID-19 Research and Frontline Workers


Helping Frontline Healthcare Workers at Risk from PTSD and Depression

Jennifer Wild and her team have developed a new mental health treatment programme to provide frontline workers with 1-to-1 support, including fast-track access to PTSD or depression treatment. This evidence-based programme, called SHAPE Recovery, builds on an outreach programme shown to reduce rates of PTSD and depression. SHAPE Recovery is working with 3,300 frontline healthcare workers across England and has now been invited to work with 8,000 London Ambulance employees and staff from associated partner organisations.


Resources for Therapists Working Remotely with Patients with OCD


Paul Salkovskis and the Oxford Health Specialist Psychological Intervention Centre have put together a range of COVID-19 resources for patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and for the professionals who are working with them remotely during the pandemic.