New Programme Helps Frontline Healthcare Workers at Risk from PTSD and Depression

24 July 2020

Researchers from the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford have developed a new mental health treatment programme to provide frontline healthcare workers with 1-to-1 support, including fast-track access to PTSD or depression treatment. This evidence-based programme, called SHAPE Recovery, builds on an outreach programme shown to reduce rates of PTSD and depression.

SHAPE Recovery is working with 3,300 frontline healthcare workers across England and has now been invited to work with 8,000 London Ambulance employees and staff from associated partner organisations.

Around the world, frontline healthcare workers, such as intensive care doctors, nurses, support staff and paramedics, are risking their lives daily to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are at an increased risk of developing mental health problems, such as a severe stress reaction called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as depression, sleep problems and anxiety. Although many hospitals offer well-being initiatives, there is little evidence to support their effectiveness and they require staff to come forward for help.

Associate Professor Jennifer Wild, Programme Lead, said: “SHAPE is based on 15 years of research to examine what predicts PTSD and depression in frontline workers. We used the findings from these studies to create a highly effective support programme to prevent the development of PTSD and depression. SHAPE is the outcome of this work. It is evidence-based, affordable, and with ongoing evaluation could, if needed, be incorporated within NHS services within 12 to 24 months. The aim is to support staff to stay well, to recover if unwell, and to continue to be able to work, providing much-valued patient care.”

SHAPE is unique because it moves the burden of outreach for help from frontline staff to well-being coaches. This means staff don’t have to come forward for help. Instead, they can access 1-to-1 confidential help, independent from their employers, on their phones. In addition, SHAPE facilitates fast access to gold-standard treatment for PTSD and depression should it be indicated.

Data collected from the programme will help Oxford researchers determine:

  • the effectiveness of this evidence-based, well-being support compared with no support for reducing symptoms of PTSD, depression, anxiety and sleep problems of frontline staff
  • whether early intervention for staff who continue to work during the pandemic leads to their recovery from mental ill health
  • potential cost savings of the programme to the NHS and society

Zidan Mozumder, a paramedic who has benefitted from the progamme, said: “Work-related stress has been at an all-time high for my peers due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, though, my weekly calls with my well-being coach have mitigated that stress significantly. For this I am eternally grateful. I feel very lucky to have had all of this support. Thank you Dr Wild and the rest of the team."

Notes for Editors:

  • SHAPE Recovery ( is an evidence-based programme for frontline healthcare workers, drawing on the researchers’ experience in co-developing the London Bombings Screen and Treat programme as well as the results of randomised control trials with frontline paramedics. 
  • Jennifer Wild is an Associate Professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, UK.
  • The programme has been funded by the COVID Research Response Fund, the Oxford Health BRC, plus funding from Brora who have donated £5000 from the sale of face masks.
  • The Department of Psychiatry has fully supported the dissemination of this programme.
  • RESEARCH METHODS: Staff coming into the Shape Recovery programme complete an initial set of questionnaires, which are repeated at 3, 6, 9, weeks and 3, 6, 12, 18 and 21 months. For the first three weeks of the programme, staff monitor their symptoms. Wellbeing support begins at 3 weeks for 6 weeks and thereafter, as needed for the duration of the study. Our wellbeing practitioners provide evidence-based tools we have previously established as effective in reducing PTSD and depression in paramedics. We will compare symptoms at 6 and 9 weeks to the first 3 weeks in which there was no support. This will allow us to determine how effective support is in reducing symptoms compared to no support. Each month, frontline staff complete two short questionnaires assessing PTSD and depression and if they score above clinical cut-off, they are fast-tracked for assessment with a clinical psychologist and prioritised for treatment within the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme. For staff treated within IAPT services, we will determine rates of recovery from PTSD, depression, anxiety and insomnia. 
  • The University of Oxford’s Experimental Psychology Department’s mission is to conduct world-leading experimental research to understand the psychological and neural mechanisms relevant to human behaviour. Wherever appropriate, we translate our findings into evidence-based public benefits in mental health and well-being, education, industry, and policy. Key areas of research include Behavioural Neuroscience, Developmental Psychology, Social Psychology, and Psychological and Brain Health. 
  • Paramedic, Zidan Mozumder, is willing to be interviewed about his experience with the programme.

Contact for interviews: Associate Professor Jennifer Wild and paramedic Zidan Mozumder are both available for interview.