Covid’s impact on research and mental health

Ella Rhodes reports.

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in tricky ethical and practical challenges for psychology researchers. In response to this the BPS has published best practice guidance for psychologists conducting research on human participants during this time.

The document was produced as an aid to ethical decision-making during Covid-19, rather than a definitive guide, to be used alongside the BPS Code of Human Research Ethics and Code of Ethics and Conduct as well as government guidelines on social distancing and using PPE (personal protective equipment). It outlines four ethical principles from the Code of Human Research Ethics which may be particularly important to consider when thinking about continuing research during the pandemic or starting new research: respect for the autonomy, privacy and dignity of individuals and communities, scientific integrity, social responsibility and maximising bene t and minimising harm.

The guidance suggests that researchers consider both the added pressure and stress brought about by the pandemic on potential research subjects and those people and groups who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. In terms of scienti c integrity the guidelines suggest among other things, that if research is moved online a researcher’s methodology and information for participants should be updated, and points to BPS guidance on Conducting Internet Mediated Research.

Considering social responsibility the authors state that outcomes of research should support and reflect respect for the dignity and integrity of people as well as contributing to the common good. ‘During the pandemic, only research that is of a high social value should be conducted. The temptation to brand all research as “Covid-19 relevant” to gain accelerated ethics review and institutional approval must be resisted. The beneficiaries of the research (short, medium and longterm) must be clear.’

To ensure research maximises benefit and minimises harm the guidelines suggest that people should not be exposed to any risks that they would not encounter in everyday life and should consider the risks of carrying out research in places such as schools, universities, hospitals and care homes. 

Supporting parents, adolescents and children

The ongoing Co-SPACE (COVID-19 Supporting Parents, Adolescents, and Children in Epidemics) study, led by University of Oxford academics, which has so far involved 12,300 parents, has released its latest report. The study found that during the first national lockdown, between March and June, primary school-aged children showed an increase in mental health difficulties and behavioural problems such as temper tantrums and arguments. 

Parents involved in the study reported that, from July to October behavioural, emotional, and restless and attentional difficulties have been decreasing. Young people of secondary school age have been more stable throughout the pandemic – as reported by parents and carers.

The study found that children with special education needs and/ or neurodevelopmental differences, and those from lower income households showed consistently elevated behavioural, emotional, restlessness and attentional dif culties over the course of the pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a surge in the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation about the virus. Professor Rory O’Connor (University of Glasgow) Director of the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory has taken to Twitter to debunk one such myth doing the rounds. ‘The false 200% rise in suicide tweet linked to lockdown is doing the rounds again. Please remember, this isn’t true. There is no evidence of a rise. And @NCISH_UK [National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health] posted findings for England confirming no increase (but we need to remain vigilant in months ahead).’

- Find well over 100 coronavirus perspectives here, and BPS support and guidance here

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