Guest blog: Health Psychology In the time of Covid-19
Prof Lucie Byrne-Davis PhD CPsychol PFHEA FEHPS, Health Psychologist, Division of Medical Education, School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, The University of Manchester
There are not enough superlatives to fully explain the strangeness that has been 2020. So many phrases have become prominent: lockdown, zooming, ‘you’re on mute’, family quiz, to name but a few. It has been a very interesting time for health psychology too.
In March, when the UK began to brace itself for the impact of the global pandemic, we saw many of our clinical colleagues in academic and research roles being called back to clinical work and many doctors and nurses having refresher training for high dependency. As the ramifications of lockdown started to unfold, volunteering projects sprung up in our communities. As health psychologists, we were not sure what we could do to support the national effort. Sure, there were those in national roles who were advising on government policy, but what could those of us around the country do?
A group of us started to discuss how much information there was for health and care teams to take in, particularly around the multiple behaviour changes needed for slowing down the spread of infection, and in keeping healthy whilst activities are heavily restricted. In early April 2020, we decided that we would ask health psychologists if they would be willing to offer some time to teams who might need support around the psychology of health and illness. We advertised for volunteers on Twitter, created a flyer about the work we could do, circulated it to health and care organisations in our networks and waited.
It turned out that people both within our own profession and in health and care organisations did want to work together. The structure of our collaborative of volunteers started to take shape with three main parts: a psychological interventions group (helping health and care organisations to maintain the psychological and physical health of their health workers), a public health group (working with public health teams, including infection prevention and control and maintaining health whilst in lockdown and beyond) and an academic underbelly (finding, sharing and synthesising evidence to support the group’s activities).
Seven months later and the groups are still working together. For the health psychology community, it has been a revelation of working together for a common good, meeting and discussing our work with a variety of colleagues at different stages of training, and a commitment to having a legacy that strengthens the psychological professions. For those organisations we have worked with, it has supported their access to evidence, theory and tools that they would normally have struggled to find and access. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to coordinate these activities, it has highlighted the space for psychology in a variety of health and care settings and the difficulties in accessing psychology, due to a lack of funded training places, employment opportunities and straightforward tendering or consultancy. It has never been more obvious that psychology can play an important role in physical health care and improvement. We are committed to getting psychology into the places where it can do most good. You can hear more about the Health Psychology Exchange and the lessons we have learnt from 2020 in the first ever Psychological Professions Week, running from the 16th - 20th November 2020: fsmevents.com/ppn/