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How clinicians can support patients’ mental health during the coronavirus outbreak

How clinicians can support patients’ mental health during the coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus has left many people feeling anxious, worried about what the future might bring, and deeply unsettled. These challenging times will particularly affect people with mental health problems. Healthcare professionals are having to support people with increased anxiety as a result of the virus, which is made more difficult by having to support most patients remotely. Below we have summarised what healthcare professionals can do to best support patients at this time.

1.     Recognise that mental health and physical health are of equal importance

Coronavirus is not just a crisis of physical health; it is also a mental health crisis. People are isolated, away from family, friends and other support networks, and loneliness will inevitably increase. People’s mental health might significantly deteriorate during this time. This is why it’s important for healthcare professionals to recognise the equal important of mental health.

2.     Recognise that for some people talking about their mental health can be difficult

Many people are worried about asking for help with their mental health.  Recognise it’s not always easy to have conversations about your deepest feelings with a healthcare professional, someone you might hardly know. Make sure to approach the conversation without judgement, with kindness and understanding. Many people will be worried about being a burden on NHS services at this time but it’s important people know it’s okay to ask for help.   Working in healthcare doesn’t make it any easier to find the words to talk about your mental health at work. In fact, it can make it harder with the potential for increased stigma amongst healthcare professionals. At this challenging time, healthcare staff should also be talking about their mental health. Like anyone else, healthcare staff need and deserve support.

3.     Ensure you give someone the time and space to explain how they feel

Appointments with healthcare professionals are often short. For example, an appointment with a GP or practice nurse will usually be under 10 minutes. While we recognise that the healthcare system is under undue pressure, we must give people the time and space to explain how they feel. Try not to make anyone feel rushed. If someone has complex needs or multiple things to talk about in an appointment, offer them a longer appointment. Ultimately, the more time someone is given to explain how they feel, the more information you will have to best support their needs.

4.     Acknowledge the difficulties in supporting someone remotely

For some people, talking to someone remotely about their mental health can be beneficial. They might be more willing to open up because of the increased anonymity and distance provided by a remote platform. But for many people this type of support makes their interaction with the health service more difficult. Some might also be concerned about having confidential conversations in a shared home and on the Internet. It is important to bear this in mind when talking to people about their mental health problems remotely.  Acknowledge how offering support to someone remotely could make this interaction more difficult for some, but make sure they know this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still receive care and support. Ask people what their preferences are for remote contact. Some people might feel more confident accessing support via the telephone than through an online video platform. Some people prefer Skype to Zoom. Talk about how you can make this work for them.

5.     Offer digital mental health support for people who need it

Some people tell us that digital mental health support can be effective and helpful for them. Possible benefits include people accessing support more quickly, not having to travel to receive support and, in some cases, feeling more comfortable. While digital support doesn’t work for everyone, it is a vital resource given the current situation.  There is evidence to show that e-therapies can achieve comparable outcomes to face-to-face therapy, especially when they are delivered by a trained therapist, and in a way that’s right for the person seeking help. The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme is making more of their services available digitally and via telephone during the outbreak. Services should keep in contact with people so they are alerted when face-to-face services resume.  Digital mental health support could be offered alongside telephone support, in order to appropriately manage risk levels and provide wrap-around support.  People accessing support should have a named person who checks in with them regularly to ensure that the support is working for them, and that any other needs they have are considered and dealt with where possible. Crisis services such as Samaritans are still currently accessible too:

6.     Remember children and young people will be affected in particular ways by this crisis

Young people may be significantly affected by what they see and hear in the news. With schools closing and the restriction of contact with friends, many will be worried about losing friends and support networks, and will be concerned about what the changes to exams mean for their future.  A young person with an existing mental health problem might also feel anxious what these changes will mean for their mental health support, especially if it was provided in school. While we all need to recognise that this is a time of uncertainty and instability for everyone, it’s important to try and remain calm and reassuring for any young people you are supporting.  There are some great online resources you can direct them to:

Mind’s information for young people who are worried about coronavirus:

Young Minds’ guidance on ways parents can talk to children about coronavirus:

Young Minds’ crisis messenger service:

Childline:, 0800 1111

7)      Signpost people to information and advice on how to look after their wellbeing during the coronavirus outbreak

There is a wealth of information and advice out there to support people to monitor and look after their own wellbeing during the coronavirus outbreak. Signpost anyone who needs additional advice to further information, such as that on Mind’s information on coronavirus:

Our advice includes information on eating well, connecting with people, ensuring that people build routine into their days, keeping active, and finding ways to relax.

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Coronavirus has left many people feeling anxious, worried about what the future might bring, and deeply unsettled.