Background: Health and social care staff are at high risk of experiencing adverse mental health (MH) outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, there is a need to prioritize and identify ways to effectively support their psychological well-being (PWB). Compared to traditional psychological interventions, digital psychological interventions are cost-effective treatment options that allow for large-scale dissemination and transcend social distancing, overcome rurality, and minimize clinician time.

Objective: This study reports MH outcomes of a Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT)-compliant parallel-arm pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) examining the potential usefulness of an existing and a novel digital psychological intervention aimed at supporting psychological health among National Health Service (NHS) staff working through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: NHS Highland (NHSH) frontline staff volunteers (N=169) were randomly assigned to the newly developed NHSH Staff Wellbeing Project (NHSWBP), an established digital intervention (My Possible Self [MPS]), or a waitlist (WL) group for 4 weeks. Attempts were made to blind participants to which digital intervention they were allocated. The interventions were fully automated, without any human input or guidance. We measured 5 self-reported psychological outcomes over 3 time points: before (baseline), in the middle of (after 2 weeks), and after treatment (4 weeks). The primary outcomes were anxiety (7-item General Anxiety Disorder), depression (Patient Health Questionnaire), and mental well-being (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale). The secondary outcomes included mental toughness (Mental Toughness Index) and gratitude (Gratitude Questionnaire-6).

Results: Retention rates mid- and postintervention were 77% (n=130) and 63.3% (n=107), respectively. Postintervention, small differences were noted between the WL and the 2 treatment groups on anxiety (vs MPS: Cohen d=0.07, 95% CI –0.20 to 0.33; vs NHSWBP: Cohen d=0.06, 95% CI –0.19 to 0.31), depression (vs MPS: Cohen d=0.37, 95% CI 0.07-0.66; vs NHSWBP: Cohen d=0.18, 95% CI –0.11 to 0.46), and mental well-being (vs MPS: Cohen d=–0.04, 95% CI –0.62 to –0.08; vs NHSWBP: Cohen d=–0.15, 95% CI –0.41 to 0.10). A similar pattern of between-group differences was found for the secondary outcomes. The NHSWBP group generally had larger within-group effects than the other groups and displayed a greater rate of change compared to the other groups on all outcomes, except for gratitude, where the rate of change was greatest for the MPS group.

Conclusions: Our analyses provided encouraging results for the use of brief digital psychological interventions in improving PWB among health and social care workers. Future multisite RCTs, with power to reliably detect differences, are needed to determine the efficacy of contextualized interventions relative to existing digital treatments.


This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Mental Health, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on https://mental.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

Cite as

De Kock, J., Latham, H., Cowden, R., Cullen, B., Narzisi, K., Jerdan, S., Muñoz, S., Leslie, S., Stamatis, A. & Eze, J. 2022, 'Brief digital interventions to support the psychological well-being of NHS staff during the COVID-19 pandemic: 3-arm pilot randomized controlled trial', JMIR Mental Health, 9(4), article no: e34002. https://doi.org/10.2196/34002

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Last updated: 06 October 2022
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