Mental health service experiences 56% rise in North Wales users as pandemic restrictions ease

An online mental health and wellbeing service has seen a 56% increase in the number of people in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) area seeking support as lockdown restrictions ease across the country.

SilverCloud Wales is a free online therapy service designed to help people aged 16 and over, experiencing mild to moderate anxiety, depression or stress, manage their mental health and wellbeing.

There’s no need to be referred by a GP – people can sign up and access the NHS Wales service anytime, anywhere, on their smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.

The rise in numbers comes as new technologies are allowing more people to access NHS services in different ways. As part of its Help Us, Help You campaign, the Welsh Government is encouraging the public to get to know the breadth of NHS services and options available to them.

The new data from SilverCloud Wales shows that 56% more people in the BCUHB area signed up for the online therapy service in May 2021 compared with April.

The same data also shows a 20% rise in people across Wales signing up for help with managing social anxiety in May 2021 compared with April, indicating that some people may be seeking support with managing their mental health and wellbeing as lockdown restrictions ease.

Alexandra Birrell, Psychology Assistant and Clinical Online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Co-ordinator for SilverCloud Wales, explains why more people may feel they need support managing their mental health and wellbeing, particularly with anxiety, as lockdown restrictions ease this summer.

“At the core of anxiety is often a difficulty in dealing with uncertainty, and at the core of low mood is often feelings of powerlessness and lack of control.

“We were instructed to stay home, which impacted our interaction with our social support networks, which usually serve to protect us from difficult feelings. For many, these conditions became the new normal. Now, as lockdown restrictions ease, being able to venture out of the house and managing social interactions is what brings up feelings of uncertainty.

“Of course, people will have different feelings about this, depending on their situation.

“Some people are naturally cautious whereas others are embracing the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones. The difficulty is that these differences in boundaries are now something that we must learn how to communicate and navigate.”

Fionnuala Clayton, Lead Psychological Assistant & Clinical Online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Co-ordinator for SilverCloud Walessaid services like SilverCloud Wales were proving to be a lifeline for many.

“SilverCloud Wales offers people an online space to explore their personal challenges and experiences in a safe and confidential way. Returning to ‘normal’ can be just as challenging as entering lockdown.

“While we have all faced different challenges depending on our age, vulnerability status, employment and social circles, what we all have is a collective understanding that Covid has had a real impact on our daily lives.

“Common challenges we are hearing from people who use the service range from a rise in social anxiety symptoms relating to Covid measures being relaxed, loneliness and feeling isolated, and the impact the pandemic has had on our connections with loved ones, through to those struggling with routine, low mood and sometimes consequently self-esteem and body image concerns.”

SilverCloud Wales uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help people manage their mental health and wellbeing. CBT works by encouraging people to challenge the way they think and behave so they’re better equipped to deal with life’s problems.

The service offers help for anxiety, depression, stress, sleep, money worries & more. Users select one of the easy-to-use, interactive online programmes to complete over 12 weeks and for best results are advised to use the service 15-20 minutes a day, three to four times a week.

Although an online self-help service, SilverCloud Wales is backed up and supported by a team of psychologists and online cognitive behavioural therapy co-ordinators.

Ms Clayton added: “SilverCloud Wales users are supported through their chosen online programme by SilverCloud Supporters who have psychological backgrounds and know how to get the best out of the programme.

“No-one should feel like they are alone with their problems. It has been fantastic to see SilverCloud Wales online therapy reach so many people, not just across Powys, where it started, but now available to any patient or resident in Wales.”

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