New mental health support programme for frontline NHS workers

A Keele University researcher is co-developing a new project to give support to male NHS frontline workers - particularly those who have experienced emotional and mental health problems due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The programme, called Behavioural Activation for Low mood and anxiety in Male NHS frontline workers (BALM), is funded by Movember and being led by the University of York, delivered in partnership with York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Tees Esk & Wear Valleys NHS Trust, and North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

Research from previous infectious disease epidemics shows that frontline health workers are at increased risk of developing both short and long-term mental health problems, with up to one-third experiencing high levels of distress.

To combat this, the researchers will develop, deliver and evaluate this early intervention programme that aims to improve common mental health challenges such as low mood, burn-out, anxiety and depression faced by male frontline NHS workers.

Around 45 male NHS frontline workers at risk of low mood will be recruited for the pilot, which starts this winter.

They will receive a behavioural activation booklet and support from specially trained experts on how to get the most out of the programme. It’s expected to be rolled out across the NHS toward the end of the project in two years’ time.

Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham, from Keele University’s School of Medicine and Visiting Professor at the University of York, is a co-investigator on the project and said: “It is absolutely vital to recognise the pressure that all healthcare professionals have been under during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the impact this has on their mental health. Men may be reluctant to come forward to help.

“Our intervention, Behavioural Activation (BA), is known to be effective in a number of different patient groups and acceptable to people who have been in previous studies of BA; we hope, therefore that we can demonstrate that it is effective and acceptable to male frontline NHS staff."

Lead researcher Professor Paul Galdas, from the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences said: “Frontline staff are at increased risk of mental health difficulties which account for almost a quarter of NHS staff sickness absences. Male frontline workers often do not seek help and might be disproportionately affected.

“Identifying effective early interventions that facilitate uptake and engagement in male frontline NHS workers is critical to mitigating the mental health risks they face during the current pandemic and beyond.”

Steve Bell, Consultant Paramedic for North West Ambulance Service and co-investigator on the project added: “It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has placed extreme demands on the emergency services provided by the NHS, and those frontline workers in these services have faced unprecedented pressures over this time. Ensuring male frontline workers, who are often disinclined to speak out and seek help, are supported is vital and this project offers the opportunity to study proven behavioural activation methods to support this potentially vulnerable group of NHS staff.”