A PIONEERING digital therapy for treating paranoia has been expanded to help people manage stress and mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic. Joining the British scientific community’s rally as the coronavirus spread, the scientists behind SlowMo built an easy access webpage (slowmo therapy) for helping people manage stress. It comes after the team completed the first randomised controlled trial of a blended digital therapy for paranoia. Early feedback on SlowMo has been positive, with users saying it has helped them manage their fears and get more out of life. Now the new Covid-focussed website builds on ideas from SlowMo, using its evidence-based cognitive behavioural techniques.

Covid-19 and its impact on mental health

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused sudden and unexpected changes that have significantly disrupted the daily routines of people across the world. There is uncertainty over the virus and, consequently, drastic but necessary measures have been taken to protect communities. These include lockdowns in many counties, including the UK, advising people they must stay at home unless it is essential to leave, for example a medical emergency. As a result of this, many people are faced with worries and concerns over their health, jobs, income, and loved ones. The limited social interactions and outdoor activity also seems to have caused increased stress as people are unable to interact with their usual support system, for example family and friends, during this pandemic.

Causes of paranoia

Paranoid thoughts are one of the most common symptoms of severe mental health problems, and are associated with significant distress and disability. But pharmacological and psychological treatments have limited effectiveness, so innovation was urgently needed. SlowMo therapy is the result of three decades of research, led by Professor Philippa Garety from King’s College London and South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. Her work discovered how fast thinking habits contribute to paranoia, and led to a talking therapy promoting slower thinking for helping people cope with their concerns.

Dr Amy Hardy collaborated with service users, clinicians, inclusive healthcare designers and technologists to design SlowMo therapy. It is an enjoyable therapy that supports people to “slow down for a moment”, notice their worries, see the bigger picture, and find the best way forward. Spinning bubbles are used to represent thoughts, grey bubbles for fast thoughts and coloured bubbles for slow thoughts. People learn ways of slowing down fast worries and growing their helpful, coloured bubbles.

The findings from the SlowMo clinical trial – a major study being undertaken with NHS service users in London, Oxford and Sussex – is due out later this year. The results will determine whether SlowMo reduces paranoia and improves slow thinking. If SlowMo’s effectiveness is confirmed by the trial, Professor Garety’s team plans to make it freely available across the NHS.

Dr Tom Ward, the SlowMo Therapy Lead, said: “Fast thinking is a natural response to what’s happening, which can be helpful when we are in danger and need to react quickly. Noticing fast thoughts can help us slow down.” The website provides helpful tactics for slowing down Covid-19 stress, including focussing on what can be changed, self-care and how to connect with other people. Users can download the slowing down tips and coloured, slow bubbles to add on their helpful thoughts. Dr Hardy explains: “Providing personalised mental health support is a significant public health need and accessible, evidence-based stress management should be available to people during this difficult time.”

Support during the Covid -19 pandemic

To find out more about mental health and Covid-19, our experts have compiled reading, podcasts and more to support you. You can also visit the government support and guidance page or contact the NHS on 111 for further information.