Key words: online psychological services, integrated focal psychotherapy, online psychological support, Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown effects
Objective: The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic led to a lockdown that caused a widespread discomfort among the Italian – and worlwide – population, as evidenced by several national and international studies. GliPsicologiOnline (GPO) was conceived as a reaction to this scenario of great difficulty. GPO is a free online service that aims at addressing the citizens’ needs of listening and support, as well as dealing with psychoeducational issues. The aim of this study was to describe the population that has requested psychological support using the GPO platform, with particular focus on the distribution throughout Italy and the type of problems that emerged in relation to age. Furthermore, the time of onset of the specific problem reported and the type of intervention implemented by therapists of the Institute for the Study and Research of Psychic Disorders (ISeRDiP) was also taken in consideration.
Method: A cross-sectional descriptive study was conducted with data collected by a group of ISeRDiP researchers, who were also involved as clinicians in the active phase of the project. The database allowed analysis using descriptive statistics and qualitative comparison of infra-cluster results.
Results: 157 individuals joined the project (138 women, 19 men), with an average age of 29 years. 74% went through only one session (15% two, 11% three sessions). The GPO service was contacted by 15 different Italian regions with a greater participation by the Lombard population (32%). The majority of the sample (93%) did not request help for symptoms directly related to Covid-19, but rather for psychological problems that developed in the context of isolation due to lockdown. Notably, in 44% of cases, the perceived discomfort was experienced for the first (mainly of the anxious type, 19%). Strong variability in the reasons for seeking help has also emerged.
Conclusions: The service offered by the GPO project gave the Italian population an opportunity to receive free support, prevent negative psychological outcome, improve psychoeducation and learn about the potential of online support services. It is not surprising that the majority of the help seeking individuals came from the Lombardy region, which was more affected than others by the pandemic. Moreover, the variability of the reasons for seeking help seems to be in line with difficulties throughout development phases and life cycle typically reported in the age group taken into consideration.