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Professor Cathy Creswell, based in the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry has been awarded £495k for research to evaluate an online therapy programme for children with anxiety problems, to see if it is an effective remote alternative to existing mental health treatment services and could help treat anxiety problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Depressed child wearing a face mask.

Six new projects worth a total of £2m will give a much-needed boost in support for research investigating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health.

Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in response to the pandemic, the projects will focus on reducing the negative effects on the mental health of three at-risk groups: healthcare workers, children and younger people, and those with serious mental health problems.

The largest of the six projects, worth £0.5m, seeks to understand and mitigate the psychosocial impact of the pandemic on NHS staff in England. There have been recent reports of NHS staff facing a mental health crisis, but these reports have not yet been validated by large-scale population studies with sufficient numbers of healthcare workers. This project will work with 18 NHS trusts across England to gather the evidence needed at a scale which will allow researchers to determine who is most at risk and recommend what support they may require.

Three of the six projects will specifically focus on children and younger people, with two projects using existing cohorts to assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent social restrictions on the mental health of teenagers. A third project will test whether a parent-led online therapy programme can help treat children who have anxiety, either as a pre-existing mental health problem or as a new condition linked to the pandemic.

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England and Head of the NIHR, said, 

'Mental Health is one of the major challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions that have been needed to control it. This new research funded by the NIHR and UKRI will help us to unpick the mental health impacts in several vulnerable groups, so we can identify those at risk sooner and make sure they can get the help they need.'

   

We have seen increases in anxiety difficulties among pre-adolescent children during the pandemic and children's mental health services are facing increased referrals. This trial will evaluate a potential means for services to provide rapid, remote, high quality support to families whose children are struggling with anxiety during and beyond the pandemic. - Professor Cathy Creswell, University of Oxford.  

The Child Anxiety Treatment in the context of COVID-19 (Co-CAT) study, run by The Oxford Psychological Interventions for Children and adolescents Research Group (TOPIC) based in the Department of Experimental Psychology and led by Professor Cathy Creswell is one of the six projects to receive funding.

NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) face major challenges in delivering psychological treatments remotely. Furthermore professionals will need to access increasingly efficient treatments if referrals to mental health services increase as expected now social distancing measures have been relaxed and schools reopened. This research will evaluate a therapist-supported, online cognitive behaviour therapy with more than 500 children with anxiety aged 5-12 years and their parents and carers. The study will compare the online programme with current CAMHS provision to see if it is as effective and could save money.

 

To read the full press release.