‘Social distancing’ and ‘lockdown’ are fast becoming our new reality, and the mental health ramifications of those needs to be discussed and addressed. The mandated isolation is often associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms, anger, and avoidance behaviors.
And of course, we are all dealing with both physical and mental anxiety, alert at the slightest twinge in our throat, our body going into fight or flight mode as if we were prey in the savannah and a jungle cat was eyeing us purposefully.
Healthcare workers have it even worse. Our own therapists are swamped with clients talking about COVID night and day, and we take periodic breaks on Zoom to sing and dance together and reduce our cortisol levels.
Those on the frontline in hospitals and clinics don’t have this luxury. Emma, our clinical lead in the UK has a partner and a brother who are working in the frontline of NHS and they come home looking like zombies every day. They always gave 110%, but right now, the risk of burnout is real and immediate. How do we support the mental wellbeing of workers when they are short on time and resources?
Wysa free resources for mental health support during COVID
We think Wysa can help and have made our premium version free for all frontline healthcare workers.
For everyone else, we have created free tool packs to deal with coronavirus anxiety, stress and isolation. They also can talk to Wysa at any point to talk through their worries or just vent a little.
Clinically approved for Covid Mental Health
There are over 10,000 mental health apps out there, so which ones which are safe, secure and helpful in these times? Here is what Joe Rafferty, CEO of Merseyside NHS Trust and chair of the Zero Suicide Alliance has to say:
We are seeing the impact Wysa is making in real-time, and have a unique insight into what people are struggling with at his time.
For those new to Wysa, it is an AI penguin written by therapists that users talk to anonymously about their mood and struggles. Typical sessions can make an impact in under 15 minutes, and people open up about their struggles in the first minute – something that is hard to achieve even in a human therapist conversation.
Even before the pandemic, Wysa had had over 1.7 million downloads and over a hundred million messages exchanged on its platform. It delivers over a million therapeutic breakthroughs every year through the free AI service alone. A breakthrough is when someone completes a cognitive restructuring exercise and says that they are feeling better and ready to move on.
Since the pandemic, there been a surge in usage of Wysa. The nature of conversations has also changed.
How Wysa conversations are changing.
Earlier low energy, depression, relationship issues, and sleep were the top topics on Wysa.
These have now been replaced by health anxiety, feelings of isolation and both financial and social implications of lockdowns. Quarantine depression has also become quite common. It is clear that people are struggling with not only health but also a financial crisis without access to their normal routines, social support, and coping mechanisms.
More specific issues people are talking about are health anxiety for self, or loved ones; panic buying; guns sales rising in the US; fear of not being able to meet family or loved ones ever again; lost job due to the crisis; losing daily routine; losing daily in-person support at home leaving them feeling helpless, triggered self-harm.
We are also seeing more people booking therapy sessions and more sessions booked per person. One in four of our therapy clients booked multiple sessions a week to discuss anxiety around COVID and quarantine depression. Our therapist’s inboxes were also flooded with queries on what they should do in this stage. We are adding AI models so Wysa can help with such questions and direct people to credible resources in their country.
Another common theme that seems to stand out was some sort of grief, like an invisible loss: loss of safety; loss of routine/connection with outside world/loss of not being able to do things that gave them joy because of quarantining or other restrictions; loss of job or fear of it; losing a loved one or fear of it.
Daily messaging on both bot and therapist has gone up significantly as well – staying virtually connected with someone to update what’s happening and sharing small wins.
How we help at this time
Helping people cope in moments of panic, and come to a point of acceptance in their grief so they can plan to move forward, has been our main focus.
In both Wysa and therapist conversations, we focus on validating a user or client’s current thoughts and helping them understand that the real intention is to be safe and healthy – both for themselves and their loved ones.
When feelings are so intense that it stops them from engaging in any productive activity, we encourage people to measure anxiety via a SUDS scale (zero to ten, where ten is the worst they have ever felt). The act of measurement is therapeutic in itself.
Wysa has a range of tools that they can access from relaxation techniques to cognitive restructuring, improving focus, or regaining motivation. Most of these take under ten minutes to do and 93% of the users find them helpful.
Over 100,000 users have used Wysa tool packs for health anxiety and social distancing, a 3x increase over any other tool in the same time period. Interestingly, they were first called pandemic anxiety and isolation support but people found these words triggering. Wysa is a safe space where they want to avoid being reminded of the pandemic.
For healthcare workers, all of our premium tools including support for burnout prevention has been made free, and has been shared widely in the UK by the NHS. It is a trust-based, quick registration on this site to get free access.
Help us help others
This is not about cost or benefit anymore. This is about relevance. And free to user, clinically approved mental health support is now more relevant than ever before.
All our hard work for the last four years, the choice to keep our service user-driven and free, our burn low, our culture compassionate and self-driven have all come together to help us make a difference.
So, please help us spread the word.
Please extend support to your patients, as well as staff. We can create co-branded landing pages for your patients and customize the app to escalate to your clinical pathways and therapists when needed, in less than a month. Let us know what you need. Your frontline healthcare workers already have free premium access to Wysa, so please ask them to get their access code here.
Public health agencies
We can create specific access to your populations and links to resources from your communities, within a week. Just drop us a line.
Employers and insurers
We will keep your IT and legal teams happy. There is no data exchange; and proven security, privacy, and efficacy. We can do custom landing pages so your employees and members can be supported at this time. We can customize escalation to your EAP in a matter of days. Write to us here.
Schools, Parents, Young people, Community organizations
Please share a link to Wysa in your networks.