Our response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Discover how we have applied our expertise to public information campaigns
Since March 2020, researchers within the Health, Welfare & Clinical Psychology research theme have been bringing their expertise to different aspects of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. What follows is an outline of the work our researchers have been involved in.
Preventive Behaviours and COVID-19
We have been involved in generating research to better understand the psychological and psychosocial determinants of adherence to preventive health behaviours (eg. handwashing, social distancing and wearing face coverings), with the aim of informing public health messaging. We have also participated in public health advisory groups, and in media contributions about this topic.
Here is a list of our contributions:
We have contributed to the Behaviour Change Group, established to advise public health responses in Northern Ireland to the COVID-19 pandemic. The work of this group is described here.
As outlined in the Public Health Agency Annual Report for 2020 (page 197) we led on - 'Exploring the facilitators and barriers to following COVID-19 guidelines on social distancing among young people in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland'. This study used health psychological models to explore young people’s behaviour in the pandemic and identify how we can best support them. The full report from which this summary was written is available here.
We have also contributed to media discussions about vaccine uptake: RTE interview (Pandemic Podcast, RTE News).
We have been involved in developing an online tool which allows people to calculate their risk of contracting and spreading the virus in collaboration with more than 100 researchers across 35 countries. The tool ‘Your COVID-19 Risk’ is described here.
We have contributed to the British Psychological Society COVID-19 Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention taskforce co-authoring over 15 internationally used briefings, resources, or papers on COVID-19 using psychological theories to support key activities in the pandemic such as handwashing, vaccine roll out, effective public health messaging, and self isolation.
We have co-Chaired the “Health Promotion and Health Service Behaviours during COVID-19” series, which led to internationally used, psychologically informed briefings to support healthier behaviour in adhering to the Chief Medical Officer’s alcohol guidelines, stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet, sleeping well, being more active, and reducing sedentary behaviour.
We are undertaking ESRC-funded systematic reviews to synthesise existing and emerging evidence about the determinants of preventive health behaviours and have been contributing to this evidence base through primary research.
Human-Animal Relationships and Animal Welfare
Our researchers have examined the interaction between humans and animals during COVID-19, a particularly important consideration given the increase in pet ownership since March 2020.
We have contributed to research examining human-animal relationships during lockdown and the links with mental health.
We have been working with the Society for Companion Animal Studies that aims to explore dog and cat adoption and relinquishment during the pandemic:
We have published an article in The Conversation about how to look after a puppy during lockdown:
Examining the Psychological Consequences
The COVID-19 situation resulted in lockdowns and quarantining on a scale that many people had not previously experienced. These are disruptions to our normal pattern of behaviour that might have psychological consequences and we have been leading research on examining these consequences.
We launched the COVID19 Psychological Wellbeing Survey (PWS) on the same day that the UK went into the first national lockdown. The study recruited over 2000 people of which many were followed up for a period of 4 months. Several peer reviewed papers have been produced and a number are currently under review. The below infographic depicts the results of the data that is specific to the 470 participants who initially responded and disclosed that they were residents in Northern Ireland.
This work was picked up by several media outlets including by the Irish News in an article titled - Coronavirus: Queen's University study highlights impact of lockdown on mental health, the Irish Times in an article titled Covid-19 has ‘striking’ psychological impact in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Medical Times in an article titled – ‘Research shows impact of COVID-19 on mental health in the North’
We produced a peer reviewed publication which outlined the details of how we conducted the PWS and also presented the results on the psychological impact of the COVID19 pandemic on the UK population during the first weeks of the initial lockdown which is viewable here.
In addition, we contributed to a number of radio shows discussing topics such as the BBC Radio Ulster show with Steven Rainey titled - How we move from responding to the pandemic to recovering from it, and two BBC Radio Foyle interviews with Lynette Fay titled – Professor Cherie Armour on how the pandemic is affecting our mental health and Rebuilding our social skills post-pandemic.
We also contributed to a local community TV programme called Behind the Science, discussing research into the psychological impacts of COVID-19 across the population of Ireland & UK
We have used the data gathered as part of this survey to examine a number of important mental health and wellbeing outcomes in the context of COVID-19, such as loneliness, anxiety, depression and PTSD symptoms, as well as some specific health related behaviours e.g. vaccine hesitancy.
Specifically, we have examined the prevalence and predictors of loneliness during the first month of the UK lockdown, and the relationship between loneliness, depression and emotion dysregulation over the first 4 months of the lockdown. Our work in the area has led to media coverage in NewsLetter and The Independent. We have also offered the public advice on how to prepare for and make the most of lockdown, and how to maintain relationships throughout lockdown. Further work on loneliness and isolation during lockdown is described here.
We have examined the relationship being COVID-19 related media consumption and mental ill health during the first UK lockdown. The primary aim of this research was to understand whether COVID-19 related media consumption is associated with changes in mental health outcomes. Further details of this paper are described here.
This work was picked up by media outlets internationally and featured in an online newspaper called WIRED in an article titled - Coronavirus news fatigue is real and it could become a big problem and in some Spanish news outlets, for example Expresso.press in an article titled - ¿Ya nos cansamos de leer sobre covid-19? La fatiga a las noticias no es nueva, el caso de covid-19 no es la excepción.
We also conducted timely research examining vaccine hesitancy among key workers and non-keyworkers during the early stages of the pandemic. Specifically examining the relevant psychological, social, and situational factors which may play a role in whether an individual will wish to receive a vaccine. See further details of this published work here.
We addressed the lack of research examining the impact of working within the context of COVID-19 on UK healthcare professionals mental health and well-being. We conducted a qualitative study interviewing healthcare professionals working across Northern Ireland in order to examine the lived experiences of healthcare professionals working during the early stages of the pandemic and lockdown period. See further details of this published work here.
Our researchers have also produced several expert commentaries on how to best support children during the COVID19 pandemic.
We contributed to an article for the Newsletter titled - Helping safeguard children’s health under lockdown is full of challenges. This work emphasised that there will be a huge degree of variability in how lockdown impacts on children, depending on their individual circumstances; in homes where there was already a level of dysfunction or vulnerability to psychological distress then the effects are likely to be more negative.
We also provided advice to those working on the frontline of the COVID19 pandemic through the ParentKind Ask an Expert series.
Further detailed written commentary on how to support children with the adversity that COVID19 might bring for some was provided via the QUB Coronavirus expert resources – this piece was titled Supporting Children in Isolation.
We also also contributed an article for the QUB COVID19 Expert analysis and commentary resources titled Prepare to sleep and sleep to be prepared which outlined how sleep is fundamental to psychological wellbeing and why this is important particularly for our frontline workers during the COVID19 pandemic.
More recently, we have recorded a video interview for Yahoo News titled ‘Mental health issues will continue post-pandemic’
Ongoing major UK 4-nation studies for which our researchers are the lead in Northern Ireland include:
The Post-Hospitalisation COVID-19 Study (PHOSP-COVID), led by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre which is a major £8.4 million research study into the long-term health effects of COVID-19 on hospitalised patients, funded by the NIHR and UK Research and Innovation.
The COVID-19 Clinical Neuroscience Study (COVID-CNS) is a £2.84 million research study which will look at 800 UK patients who were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 and had neurological or neuropsychiatric complications, in order to understand how these problems occur and develop strategies to prevent and treat them.