Preparedness of health systems to reduce mental health and psychosocial concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic

RESPOND is an EU-funded research project running from 2020 to 2024. The project aims to identify which groups are most at risk for adverse mental health effects due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to understand what determines that risk.

The project will also implement and adapt cost-effective programmes to help those in need and seek to identify effective strategies to improve health system preparedness in the event of a future pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on individuals and society

The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken by governments to reduce its spread have had a strong impact on individuals, and on society at large. Due to the unprecedented scale and nature of the pandemic, little is known about which groups are most vulnerable to mental health challenges resulting from it. The RESPOND project seeks to identify these groups and to understand which factors influence their risk of vulnerability, as well as what could help to reduce that risk.

Effects on health systems

Health systems across the world have had to struggle to find a balance between successfully containing the pandemic and dealing with the mental health challenges that have resulted from it. Social distancing has made it more challenging to deliver mental healthcare when patients can no longer meet with their practitioners in person. Therefore, it is essential to make flexible psychological programmes available to reach and meet the needs of those suffering from mental health difficulties.

Psychological interventions to address COVID-19 related distress

After identifying which groups are most vulnerable to mental health challenges, the RESPOND project aims to reach these groups via psychological programmes developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO): “Doing What Matters in Times of Stress” and “Problem Management Plus”. At first, a lower intensity intervention will be provided. Individuals requiring further support will move to the next step and receive a more intensive intervention. This is known as “stepped care”. These programmes have shown to be effective and can be implemented both quickly and at a low cost. They will also be tailored to the context of the pandemic.

The countries targeted in the project are the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and France. Data from the populations of Sweden, Italy, and Spain will be used and compared. Other participating countries are: the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia.

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