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A Brief, Daily, Online Mental Health and Well-being Intervention for University Staff During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Program Description and Outcomes Using a Mixed Methods Design

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posted on 2022-02-25, 00:00 authored by A Parker, Sarah Dash, M Bourke, R Patten, M Craike, P Baldwin, W Hosking, I Levinger, V Apostolopoulos, M de Courten, J Sharples, M Naslund, V Stavropoulos, M Woessner, C Sonn, C Stansen, M Pascoe

Background
The unprecedented changes and isolation measures to contain COVID-19 have had multiple psychological and social impacts, with implications for professional and personal functioning. Evidence-informed interventions that can be rapidly implemented under pandemic conditions to support mental health during such times are urgently needed.


Objective
The aim of this study was to determine the acceptability and preliminary outcomes of a daily online mental health promotion program for tertiary education staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Methods
The “Victoria University (VU) Elevenses” program was delivered as an uncontrolled intervention at Victoria University (VU) in the western metropolitan region of Melbourne, Australia. In April 2020, an email invitation was sent to all academic and professional staff inviting them to: (1) participate in the program and (2) opt-in to the research component. The “VU Elevenses” program provided 10-15–minute microinterventions comprising lifestyle and well-being strategies to promote mental health via an online meeting platform at 11 AM each weekday. A mixed methods approach was used to evaluate the program, combining structured questionnaires with semistructured interviews to investigate the experiences of staff who participated in the program.


Results
Between 16 and 90 participants provided weekly program feedback. A total of 106 university staff opted into the longitudinal research component and 10 staff participated in the interviews. Participants reported high levels of satisfaction with sessions and perceived benefits for mental health. Approximately one quarter of participants reported moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress at baseline, with significant reductions in these symptoms in the first 7 weeks of the program, corresponding with easing in mandatory isolation (“lockdown”) restrictions. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress all increased when lockdown measures were reintroduced, but not to the same levels as found during the initial lockdown period. Overall changes in depression and anxiety from baseline to the end of the program were explained by changes in COVID-19–related distress, whereas changes in self-compassion explained changes in stress.


Conclusions
We show that it is feasible and acceptable to develop and deliver a program of brief interventions in a timely manner, using a simple and accessible online platform. Although participation in the program was initially associated with reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, participants’ mental health worsened with the reintroduction of a “lockdown” period. However, as symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress did not return to levels observed at the start of the VU Elevenses program, participation in the uncontrolled intervention may have offered a protective benefit against the impact of the second significant lockdown period.

History

Journal

JMIR Formative Research

Volume

6

Issue

2

Article number

e35776

Pagination

1 - 16

Publisher

JMIR Publications

Location

Toronto, Ont.

ISSN

2561-326X

eISSN

2561-326X

Language

eng

Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

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