Sarah Markham: A wellbeing and coping resource to help people during covid-19

Covid-19 is not just a public health crisis, it is also personal. We are all feeling the pressure. The ongoing uncertainties are manifoldhow much worse the second wave of the pandemic will be, how many people will become ill, and how long it will be before we can get back to normal and resume our daily lives. People with long-term physical conditions and people with mental health conditions may be at greatest risk of emotional and psychological difficulties.

As the covid-19 outbreak spread globally, it was clear that many people were struggling to copepatients, carers, healthcare professionals and others alike. To meet the very real and immediate need for psychological support at a population level, 4 Mental Health, led by clinical director and NHS consultant liaison psychiatrist Alys Cole-King, launched the WellbeingAndCoping website at the end of March. The organisation, which works across different countries, had already launched the much-valued web-resource in 2019 to provide compassionate, empathetic, informed advice on how to make a mental health safety plan.

WellbeingAndCoping, which is co-funded by NHS England, was designed with international input from academics, health professionals, mental health specialists, educators and people who are having a hard time emotionallypeople like you and me.

There was already an overload of factual information about the pandemic in the public domain, so the aim was to create a very simple website with an instantly calming appearance that offers free, compassionate and practical advice, even if someone visiting the site is very distressed. It is also designed to make people who are self-isolating or shielding feel less alone. The site emphasises our common humanity and need to look after ourselves and each other. 

The website is suitable for the general public and healthcare professionals alike. (Health workers are worried about patients, but they are also worried about loved ones, colleagues and themselves). The site is of particular value to people in a “carer” role, especially young carers whose support networks are likely to be depleted.

Some of us with OCD compulsions regarding personal hygiene, in particular handwashing, have found these severely exacerbated by quite rational fears about contracting a possibly life-threatening illness. And people with immunodeficiency may be especially concerned about contracting covid-19.

WellbeingAndCoping offers a range of things that an individual can do to relieve their distress, stress and anxiety. Given that many of us are likely to have a very low bandwidth to take on new information at present, the site’s simple coping strategies use the ‘30-3-30’ approach. People select things that they can practically fit in to whatever time they have available, be that 30 seconds, 3 minutes or 30 minutes. For example, if someone becomes distressed while caring for someone else, they can develop 30-second or 3-minute ‘emergency reboot’ coping strategy, invisible to others, that they can use to self-soothe. This helps people to settle themselves and get on with the task in hand. Later, when they have more time for themselves, they can use a 30-minute activity to relax properly.

What has struck me most strongly so far is the feedback I have received from my “non-vulnerable” friends, all of whose lives have been placed in various forms of jeopardy by the pandemic. They have been really impressed by the speed with which the website has been developed, how good it looks, how cleverly it is set up, but above all by the practicality and relevance of its advice and coping techniques. 

Sarah Markham is a member of the BMJ Patient Panel and WellbeingAndCoping Expert Reference Group.

Competing interests: None.