The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic seemed to spread very quickly. Most of us were constantly watching the news to find out what was going on and what was happening with Covid-19. We saw other countries going into lockdowns and schools closing, knowing we were likely to be next. The UK issued a national response to reduce the impact of Covid-19. On 23rd March 2020, the country went into lockdown and the public was advised to stay home and stay safe. Those of us admitted to hospital found this very difficult as we lost a lot of our freedom. We were unable to use our leaves, we could no longer go to Occupational Therapy groups, and we couldn’t have visits with our friends and family, although we kept in touch by phone and videocalls. Some of us were close to discharge and progressing in our care and treatment, and this lockdown stalled us from moving forward.
With these restrictions in place, a lot of us were at a loss of what we could do and how to spend our time as we couldn’t do the things we normally did; we couldn’t go on leave to the shops or go to our groups and sessions that normally occupied our time. We were bored and the lockdown was starting to have a negative effect on our motivation and mental health. We felt that we needed more activities and something new to keep us occupied and motivated, to help us cope through this lockdown. Every week we have a community meeting and we thought this was the best place to raise this, and to ask for more opportunities.
Dipping our feet into research
Following the community meeting, the idea emerged for us to lead a research project. Some of us were interested in participating because we were bored and wanted something to do, others because they were curious about research, and others to prove that they were trying to stay motivated. This research project was called the Discovery Group and we decided to research the reporting of Covid-19 statistics in the media.
On 6th April 2020, our Discovery Group launched. It began with us meeting up once a week, over an 8-week period. We spent our time in the sessions reading through newspapers, looking into the reported statistics of Covid-19 and how these compared in different countries, and how the media reported the Covid-19 outbreak.
We were particularly interested to see which country would be reported in the media the most in relation to Covid-19 infection rates and mortality rates.
After we had conducted our research, we found that the USA was the worst affected country in regard to mortality and infection rates – this is a larger country and has a bigger population compared to other countries. China, where the virus had originated, seemed to be managing the pandemic with infection and mortality rates declining. The media’s reporting of Covid-19 was more focused on mortality rates and infection rates, rather than recovery rates. Some countries were under-reported in the media we analysed, with the focus being on more western countries such as the US and European countries, most likely because our data were gathered from British media.
On 15th July 2020, we participated in an evaluation workshop of our research project. We particularly enjoyed this workshop, where we gathered together one more time to discuss what we had done and what we had discovered, and reflected on our experience of being part of a research project. We think that the Discovery Group helped occupy some of our time during the early part of lockdown. For most of us this had been the first time we had been involved in research; overall, it was a positive experience and we would be interested in exploring research again.
On behalf of the NIHR Research Design Service North East and North Cumbria (RDS NENC), we extend our thanks to service users, Clinical Lead Lindsey Wilson and other staff members of the Discovery Group for sharing their experience and for their excellent work. We are delighted to have supported Dr Anne Aboaja, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, in her work with the Discovery Group and wider work around involvement of service users and carers in shaping the research agenda of mental health services.