Resilience Quick Reads: Online Support for Mental Health
Updated: Sep 16, 2022
Welcome to the latest in our series of short blogs to help you stay safe, sane and supported during the current crisis. At a time when we’re relying on the internet more than ever, we thought it would be useful to look at the online support for mental health that’s out there.
To many of us, the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on our mental health and wellbeing. We have been so busy doing all we can to deal with immediate challenges and to protect the health of our loved ones, that the toll it has taken on our mental health has perhaps gone unnoticed.
Whether we entered the crisis with pre-existing mental health problems, found ourselves feeling overwhelmed by stress and anxiety as a result of the pandemic, or are experiencing depression associated with the social isolation and loss of purpose that has been a problem for so many, the pandemic has affected us all.
And yet, at a time when there is a greater need for mental health support, it is less readily available. We can’t just book an appointment and go and sit down with a counsellor or therapist because many clinics are closed due to social distancing measures.
In today’s blog we look at what help is available online for those struggling with more serious or enduring mental health problems during this crisis.
The impact of coronavirus on our mental health
When we encounter or perceive a threat, our sympathetic nervous systems become aroused. Our amygdala, a fist-sized structure in the centre of our brains that we have in common with all other mammals and reptiles, sounds the alarm and pumps adrenaline and cortisol into our body, preparing us to fight or flee from the threat. This reaction is so powerful it has the ability to switch off our thinking brains as our bodies go into auto-pilot to protect ourselves.
This fight or flight reaction leads to us feeling threat emotions of fear, anxiety, panic or anger. It affects our behavior, leading to hypervigilance – being on the lookout for further threats, avoidance and withdrawal.
When stress goes on for too long without time for recovery, it becomes the chronic stress cycle. We may try to cope with ongoing difficult feelings by ruminating about the challenges we are facing. We may feel hopeless and give up, losing motivation and interest in things. We may start drinking more alcohol or trying to escape the distress through online shopping or gaming.
These responses to the perception of threat impact our mental health. When we feel hopeless or helpless and withdraw from activities and relationships that keep us healthy, we can become depressed. If our fears centre on becoming ill or dying from coronavirus, we can become anxious about our health and hypervigilant for signs and symptoms, perceiving a threat whenever we notice a change in our bodies.
For some of us, the current crisis might trigger templates for threat in our brains that remind us of earlier experiences in our lives when we felt helpless, frightened, or alone. This can lead to the development of anxiety or depression, and the adoption of coping behaviours that can contribute to further distress. Coping with psychological distress through overcontrol of our eating or our actions, focusing obsessively on fears and attempting to get rid of them through compulsive handwashing or checking, avoidance of triggers for distress or withdrawing from our social support networks might feel helpful in the short term. However, over the longer term, or if over-used, these patterns can keep the problems going and undermine our resilience.
Some of us will be dealing with the grief of losing a loved one or the trauma of severe illness. And for those working in health and care settings, witnessing suffering and death can be traumatic and undermine our sense of safety and control in the world. These experiences can lead to a post-traumatic stress reaction, characterised by hyperarousal, hypervigilance, and avoidance of reminders of the trauma situation.
What mental health support is available online?
Under normal circumstances, if you were struggling with any of the mental health challenges mentioned, you would go and talk it through with your GP. They might refer you to an organisation that could help by offering counselling or other talking therapies.
However, under lockdown and with social distancing in place, these normal avenues for support are harder to access. However, if you or someone you know is struggling, there are still a number of online resources for mental health and sources of help available. The following is a list of organisations that offer online support for mental health, or are able to direct you to mental health practitioners who are suitably qualified and working online:
The BPS provides blogs and tips for dealing with the pandemic. These include advice for keyworker parents to help their children adapt, advice for children and young people whose parent is a keyworker, supporting older people, coping with death and grief and using technology to say goodbye.
They also have a directory of registered and qualified clinical psychologists where you can find a psychologist local to you who may be able to offer online therapies. Clinical psychologists work across the full range of mental health difficulties including depression and anxiety disorders, such as panic, health anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They are also trained to work across the lifespan, so you can search for a psychologist who will work with children, adults or older people.
This organisation provides a directory of counsellors and psychotherapists who are available to work online with adults, children, and young people. They give advice for people struggling with anxiety and grief due to the pandemic in a series of blogs. They also offer help on choosing someone suitably qualified to provide talking therapies, and what to expect when you speak to someone.
Focusing largely on helping people to recover from traumatic events, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) is a psychological therapy that helps people to manage their responses to traumatic stress and get back to a normal life. The website provides information for potential clients about online therapy in response to the Covid-19 crisis, and a directory of therapists.
Cruse Bereavement Care offers support, advice and information to children, young people and adults when someone dies. There are a number of blogs on the website aimed at helping people cope with grief and loss during the current crisis, as well as offering practical advice on what to say to someone else who is bereaved. There is a free helpline, staffed by trained bereavement volunteers, which you can access online or by telephone.
Offering help, advice and support for people struggling with anxiety, phobias or OCD, No Panic runs recovery programmes and has published a series of blogs offering coping tips during the coronavirus pandemic. They also have a helpline staffed 10am-10pm by trained volunteers.
Samaritans is an organisation that for many years has offered support and help to anyone struggling with emotional or psychological distress, mental health problems, or suicidal thoughts. They have written some blogs to help during the coronavirus outbreak and also offer phone, email and written support from trained volunteers.
Nottingham based charity, Harmless offers a range of services related to self-harm and suicide prevention, providing information and training to those who self-harm, their friends and families, and those at risk of suicide.
Whether you want support and advice for adapting to family life in lockdown or are concerned about a child, the NSPCC have a helpline that you can call to get support and advice. The NSPCC have also produced a series of blogs associated with the coronavirus pandemic, including advice for parents and carers to manage during lockdown and how to talk to children worried about coronavirus.
In addition to the links and organizations mentioned here, the NHS provides a further list of useful contacts aimed at supporting people struggling with mental health challenges.
If you found this helpful and would like to find out more about coping in a crisis, check out some of the other blogs in this series. You might also like to join our Facebook group UR Resilient, where members are busy sharing creative and inspiring ideas for staying positive during this challenging time.