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Caring for a university community during the COVID-19 pandemic: Development of an online psychological support service (UCare)

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Ana Sofia Caetano, Maria João Martins, Ana Carvalhal de Melo & António Queirós

 

Abstract

The present paper aims to share a university medical services’ experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a reaction to the predictable negative psychosocial impact on the community brought by home confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Coimbra (Portugal) implemented an emotional support line (UCare). A team of clinical psychologists provided online intervention through videocalls, audio, or text. From March to July 2020, 56 people, mostly students, utilised UCare, through 90 appointments. Users reported difficulties regarding academic issues, time management, anxiety, isolation, sleep disorders, fear of infection, and exacerbation of previous psychopathology. Interventions included emotional debriefing, time management strategies, emotional regulation, and sleep quality improvement techniques. Psychotherapeutic tools (e.g., flyers, audio tutorials) were made available after appointments. Over 30% of users were referred to clinical psychology services. In an evaluation of UCare user satisfaction, all respondents rated the interventions between “useful” or “very useful” and reported high satisfaction levels. UCare targeted vulnerable groups (international and post-graduate students) and had an important role in identifying specific mental health problems. Future directions are discussed.

 

Keywords: COVID-19, pandemic, university community, psychological support, online intervention

 

Address for Correspondence
António Queirós

aqueiros@uc.pt