Online therapy helps cope with COVID-19 in Turkey

The uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic has affected mental health worldwide. In Turkey, citizens try to cope with their daily struggles through online therapy.

Mental health professionals developed materials for parents and their children, burdened by high levels of stress and anxiety during lockdown restrictions, which ended in June, and made them available free of charge on the internet.

Furthermore, they broadcasted live on social media in an effort to prevent misinformation from less reliable sources, helping people, including the elderly with chronic diseases, to solve these problems as well as offering advice on how they should continue their lives under lockdown.

In order to avoid people having to attend hospital in person, telepsychiatry services were offered to people who required such intervention.

Ayberk, a struggling musician from capital Ankara who requested to be anonymous, explained to Xinhua that he felt “terrified” by the possibility that he could be intubated in an hospital and eventually “become part of the statistic” if he died due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Since I live with my mother, who is 70, I was very anxious during and after the lockdown. I was already slightly hypochondriac before and it got much worse, causing insomnia and other discomforts,” he said.

“I found some relief with online psychotherapy sessions administered by a group of psychologists that friends had recommended,” he remarked.

Tens of thousands of Turkish people have also contacted a newly created World Health Organization-backed helpline which supports those affected by mental health issues in the wake of COVID-19.

“This support line was established to help people cope with stress caused by changes to their lives because of the COVID-19. It also assists individuals with chronic mental illnesses,” said Esra Alatas, head of the Mental Health Department at Turkey’s Ministry of Health.

According to the ministry, the service reaches all of Turkey’s 81 provinces and has provided more than 80,000 consultations to health workers and citizens since its launch in March.

“We are able to treat patients for their physical effects of the coronavirus, but the disease has a clear visible impact on those who are already prone to mental issues,” Gule Cinar, an Ankara-based doctor, told Xinhua.

The specialist of infectious diseases indicated that even if the virus can be ultimately cured, patients develop different forms of anxiety disorders that would impact their daily lives and need therapies, which are not always available.

“Some citizens are not aware because they did not experience it. But when you do, there are both biological and psychological impacts of the disease,” Cinar stressed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused stress, anxiety and worry to many individuals, arising both from the disease itself and from measures such as social distancing, the Turkish Psychiatrist Association said.

Common causes of psychological stress during pandemics include fear of falling ill and dying, avoiding healthcare due to fear of being infected, fear of losing work and livelihoods, and depression, it noted in a report.

Meanwhile, the work of volunteer therapists from a Turkish association was recently included in the leading academic journal Springer for their research on online therapy.

The eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) method used by the Turkish EMDR Association Trauma Healing Group helps healthcare workers on the frontline in the fight against the outbreak, their families and civil servants overseeing the struggle.

Emre Konuk, director of the group, told state-run Anadolu Agency that disasters and pandemics inflict massive damage but their program helps people gain experience in how to reduce suffering.

“The pandemic changed the way we work … the online method enabled us to reach out to people all across the country,” Konuk said.