Frontline experiences of delivering remote mental health supports during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland: innovations, insights and lessons learned from mental health workers

Bethany Griffith, Heather Archbold, Isabel Sáez Berruga, Samantha Smith, Karen Deakin, Nicola Cogan, Gary Tanner, Paul Flowers

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Abstract

COVID-19 restrictions drove rapid adaptations to service delivery and new ways of working within Scotland’s mental health sector. This study explores mental health workers’ (MHWs’) experiences of delivering their services remotely. Twenty participants, who had worked in mental health professions in the National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, took part in online semi-structured interviews. Data was transcribed then analysed using an inductive thematic analysis. Two major themes are reported: (1) ‘Improved Flexibility for both MHWs and Service Users’ and (2) ‘Teletherapies Challenge Therapeutic Boundaries’. In relation to (1) virtual platforms were seen as vital in maintaining patient care throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and a valuable resource for service users (SUs) who had previously struggled with mobility or social anxieties when accessing face-to-face services. Some MHWs’ also noted benefits for their productivity and comfort. Regarding (2) MHWs highlighted that whilst conducting teletherapies from home, work-life boundaries became blurred and, in some instances, typically comforting spaces became associated with the traumatic content discussed by SUs. These stressors seemed to be compounded by MHWs’ isolation, as they were less able to draw upon their colleagues for support. Further, confidentiality could not be assured, as MHWs and SUs alike had to accommodate their family members. These findings highlight important insights from MHWs in adapting to rapid changes in mental health working practices, particularly in relation to the challenges of delivering quality, safe and equitable services and the increased use of teletherapies. Such insights are vital in informing service developments and supporting future pandemic preparedness across a range of healthcare contexts and countries seeking to adopt hybrid models of mental health service delivery.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology, Health and Medicine
Early online date21 Nov 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Nov 2022

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • digital mental health
  • mental health workers
  • psychological support
  • staff wellbeing
  • teletherapy
  • trauma informed practices

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