17th February, 2021

A new digital intervention developed by DigitalHealth.London Accelerator alumnus My Possible Self, a mental health app, in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and NHS Highland has rapidly reduced depression and anxiety and increased wellbeing among health and social care workers in the COVID-19 pandemic.

New pilot research funded by the Chief Scientist Office at the Scottish Government showed the intervention to be useful over just four weeks and suggested the approach could be used more widely to support NHS staff wellbeing.

Led by Dr Johannes De Kock, Research Fellow at UHI and Clinical Psychologist at NHS Highland, the study looked at the mental health of health and social care workers at NHS Highland and measured psychological wellbeing, depression, anxiety and mental toughness.

Dr De Kock’s team worked with My Possible Self to modify the NHS-approved mental health app with content specifically tailored to support staff wellbeing during the pandemic.  

New features included a fictional nurse called Iona to provide virtual support to participants and guide them through the intervention with helpful text and email reminders. Other features included tailored characters and story lines to encourage engagement.

The first two weeks of the intervention focused on building resilience and the character strength of gratitude while the second two weeks focused on dealing effectively with low mood and anxiety. Retention rates stood at 77 percent at two weeks and 63 percent at four weeks.

A pilot randomised control trial  (RCT) – where the modified app was compared to a control condition – showed a statistically significant reduction in anxiety and a reduction in depression and an increase in psychological well-being, mental toughness and gratitude over a four-week period in a sample of NHS Health and Social Care staff.

The researchers at the University of the Highlands and Islands said: “We found that existing, validated digital interventions can rapidly be modified and tailored to a specific context or groups which creates opportunities to also support other health boards’ NHS staff working through the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Joanne Wilkinson, founder of My Possible Self, said: “The United Nations has warned of the risk of a major global mental health crisis as a result of the pandemic. The British Medical Association has highlighted the toll on doctors, many of whom are suffering from depression, anxiety, stress and burnout.

“We are very happy to have contributed to the UHI and NHS Highland Staff Wellbeing Project, which has demonstrated how our app can be tailored specifically to support the mental health of NHS workers at this extremely challenging time for our healthcare system.

“Since being on the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator, we have continued to grow, develop and support more people with our app. This opportunity to support NHS staff is something we are particularly proud of.”

NHS Highland health improvement specialist Elspeth Lee said: “The impact of living through the pandemic including lockdowns is taking its toll on everyone’s wellbeing. We would encourage people to acknowledge this, and to use tools such as this and other NHS approved Apps to help themselves, and to reach out for help if they require it.” 

The Chief Scientist Office called for rapid research projects to support the resilience and mental health of frontline health and care staff.


My Possible Self is an alumni of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme.

The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator is a collaborative programme funded by London’s three Academic Health Science Networks – UCL Partners, Imperial College Health Partners, and the Health Innovation Network, MedCity, CW+ and receives match funding from the European Regional Development Fund.