How digital health can help reduce anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic

Online mental health support is increasingly important as communities face lockdown and social distancing measures.
By Tammy Lovell
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As cases of COVID-19 around the world increase, it is not only people’s physical health which is under threat. 

Uncertainty, constant news and social isolation can trigger anxiety for many, especially those with pre-existing mental health conditions.  

Stephen Buckley, head of information at UK Mind, said the pandemic is “causing people a lot of concern and media coverage might play a role in heightening this”. 

With social distancing being recommended by governments and many people self-isolating, technology is an increasingly important way of accessing mental health support. 

Wellmind Health, which runs online mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MCBT) course Be Mindful, told MobiHealthNews it has seen “a recent uptick in enquiries and uptake” of the course from individuals, companies and healthcare providers.  

Popular meditation apps Calm and Headspace have both released free digital offerings to help the public cope with anxiety and panic. Calm has created an online hub with content including sleep stories, meditations, music and mindful movement. They also plan to livestream anxiety-reducing meditations.  

Headspace has unlocked a specially-curated collection of meditation and mindfulness content, called Weathering the Storm, available in several languages. Employers can also access its free online collection of tools and resources to support mental health in the workplace. 

In a LinkedIn post, Headspace cofounder and CEO Rich Pierson wrote “This is our small way of helping people around the world find some calm and compassion for themselves and those around them in a truly trying time.” 

WHY IT MATTERS 

According to the World Health Organization's March 17 figures, there have been 167,515 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and 6,606 deaths. 

Anxiety UK said that constant information about the spread of the virus “can specifically cause challenges for those with live with anxiety on a day to day basis”.

In particular, it said people living with claustrophobia, agoraphobia, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and health anxiety could face an exacerbation of symptoms. 

THE LARGER CONTEXT 

In response to COVID-19, organisations such as Israel’s Sheba Medical Center have been using telehealth to monitor patients in quarantine or at home, while hospitals in the UK have been instructed by NHS England to carry out more video consultations.

ON THE RECORD

Wellmind Health CEO, Richard Latham, said: “The exceptional situation in which we all find ourselves at present unfortunately has the potential to negatively affect people's mental health on a number of levels and we hope that we will be able to help alleviate distress during these unsettling times.” 

For WHO mental health advice relating to COVID-19 follow this link.  

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Ralf-Gordon Jahns (pictured on the right) is the Managing Director of Research2Guidance, a leading market analyst and strategy consultancy company for the global digital health market.

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