Tackling mental health in quarantine

Hannes Klöpper is the CEO and co-founder of HelloBetter (formerly GET.ON), an online mental health platform which has conducted more clinical studies on the efficacy of online psychology trainings than any other provider. People struggling with mental health issues can call their hotline (0800 0009554) daily between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CET for help.

TOA: What exactly do your training programs entail?

Hannes Klöpper: Essentially these treatments are online courses that teach you the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s partly psychoeducation, in which you learn about the things you’re struggling with, and we teach you concrete strategies for how to address it. There’s actually a coach, a psychologist, who guides you through the training and checks in with you to answer questions. What’s interesting is that this kind of solution is relatively hands-off – it’s a lot cheaper than traditional, in-person cognitive behavioral therapy – but it produces the same results.

TOA: Given the uncertainty and isolation that the coronavirus has caused, how can people find ways to manage stress and anxiety?

HK: There are several things that you could do. Firstly, you have to take an active approach. It’s important to take time to consciously engage with the fact that this is a challenge. If you decided to take on a challenge like running a marathon, you’d set aside some time to confront it and train regularly.

Aside from confronting the issue in general, it’s important to do specific things that give you energy and get your body going. On the physical side, do yoga at home, meditate, or – if you can – go for a jog. On the psychological side, try to engage in (non-physical) contact with others, perhaps by calling a friend who you haven’t talked to in a while.

When it comes to the news, it’s important to stay informed, but it shouldn’t be obsessive, particularly if you already it causes you anxiety. Maybe take a time to watch the morning news, but don’t look at every news item that pops up over the course of the day.

If you feel like it’s getting too overwhelming, reach out for help. Call a helpline, seek out support groups on Facebook, or take advantage of resources like ours that help to cope and engage with others who are struggling.

TOA: Is it possible for people to try out your service for free to see if it’s helpful? How should they go about setting up a consultation?

HK: We now have a hotline which provides immediate help from our psychologists. The first consultation, which is always free, offers general advice on how to cope, insight into our training programs, and suggestions for where else they can find help. Additionally, we’ll be engaging with the community through a variety of channels throughout the crisis, sharing tips on how to look after yourself. This includes a Facebook group, live Facebook Q&As featuring our psychologists, frequent blog posts, and informational videos. 

Once we’ve completed an initial consultation, we can gauge whether someone needs more intensive care and give specific recommendations on the basis of our psychologist’s assessment. Sometimes, people who feel they’re really struggling are given relatively simple strategies to cope, and they quickly start feeling a lot better. Conversely, sometimes there are people who think they’re simply stressed, but when we go deeper and ask more questions, realize they’ve been experiencing a major depressive episode and been happy in the month or longer. That’s why it’s important for us to properly get a sense of where someone stands.

TOA: How can we use technology to support and connect with each other rather than allowing it to make us more polarized?

HK: The problem that we see in society as a whole is that the information landscape presented to you is very stratified by who you are and who you’re connected with socially. But these bubbles don’t really overlap. With that being said, well educated and curiously minded friends will always have the latest information at their fingertips. I feel my Facebook feed informs me really well because many of my friends have a lot of time at their hands now, and they’ve been diving deep into these issues. My own views of the crisis have evolved tremendously. Just by reading a couple of really strong, informative pieces online, you can convince someone who maybe wonders “what’s all the fuss about?” that the situation is, in fact, really urgent.

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