Open Letter to All Psychologists: What about our COVID-19 response?

As psychologists, it is our professional and ethical responsibility to act and offer help in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is high time we take responsibility in contributing to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. As communities around the planet transition to living in isolation until further notice, we must think about ways in which our profession can take its part in the global response.

Social distancing and isolation have been introduced in most of the countries and communities worldwide. Isolation comes with societal as well as individual-level consequences, including stress, anxiety, feeling of uncertainty and loneliness, just to mention a few. These conditions are difficult to manage for everyone, let alone those with pre-existing mental health problems. Meanwhile, management of such conditions is one of the priority areas of Psychology as a discipline. It is our duty to help.

The Code of Ethics and Conduct of The British Psychological Society consists of four key ethical principles, one of which is Responsibility. The document describes the shared value of Responsibility as follows:

“Psychologists value their responsibilities to persons and peoples, to the general public, and to the profession and science of Psychology, including the avoidance of harm and the prevention of misuse or abuse of their contribution to society.” (Code of Ethics and Conduct, BPS, 2018)

In my understanding, this responsibility to persons and peoples should include responding to such a global crisis that we are living right now. Moreover, since the COVID-19 pandemic has a direct impact on the mental health and well-being of our communities through social distancing, taking this responsibility up is even more important.

We, as psychologists, can contribute to the COVID-19 global response in at least two key ways.

  1. Psychologists with clinical and mental health advisory experience (clinical psychologists, applied psychologists, mental health advisors, etc.) can design a volunteer scheme whereby they offer freely available online mental health support for those in need. We are already working on such a scheme with psychologists from Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary. I emailed the British Psychological Society to initiate the same in the United Kingdom. We must avoid causing harm and act within our competence – making sure that volunteers only act within their power, control and management (as also stated in the Code of Ethics and Conduct.)
  2. Research psychologists can have a major impact by researching our communities in the time of crisis. Existing initiatives include that of the Psychological Science Accelerator.

Acute response is critical. It is time for well-thought and immediate decisions. I encourage all fellow psychologists to think about the points above, discuss, share thoughts and act.

Best wishes from Budapest,

Zsófia Szlamka

Psychologist

PhD Candidate, King’s College London

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