Searches for online therapists skyrocketed after Boris’s Plan B announcement. Long NHS wait times mean that digital services are stepping in to fill the gap in accessing mental health help

When prime minister Boris Johnson announced new coronavirus measures last Thursday, searches for enquiries into online mental health services soared.

Concerns about the more transmissible Omicron variant, the new urgency over booster jabs, mandatory mask-wearing and advice to work from home, have raised people’s anxiety levels over their health and wellbeing and that of their families.

The British digital therapy platform  Augmentive , which matches users with a therapist, reported a record number of enquiries from people looking for a therapist on the day of the Plan B announcement. “The evening of Boris’s announcement, we saw a 100 per cent increase in enquires - the most we’ve ever had,” says co-founder Kit Norman. With NHS waiting times for mental health appointments at around nine months, it’s no surprise that people are seeking out alternative ways to see a therapist.

“A lot of people are feeling very stuck,” says Sarah Norman, an Integrative Therapist of ten years, who offers a combined approach to psychotherapy and who is co-founder of Augmentive. “The pandemic is making people anxious and their relationships are being impacted by this anxiety.

“This time there seems to be much more of a sense of dread about the effect it will have on people’s lives,” says Sarah. Anxiety about having to isolate with a partner was top of the list of people's reasons for seeking help, she says and women aged 25 to 35 were the main demographic making enquiries. Topping their particular list of concerns was anxiety about being stuck in a problematic career and relationship and the difficulty of forming new relationships.

According to the Office for National Statistics, one in six adults experienced some form of depression  in summer 2021, compared with one in ten before the pandemic. While this is not good news, Norman says that actually, the rise in numbers of people seeking help to find a therapist online suggests that this time around, people are being more proactive about seeking help.

“People are more aware of the importance of looking after their mental health,” says Norman, "but long NHS waiting times and the minefield of finding a therapist alone means that people often don’t get to actually talk to anybody until their anxiety or depression has escalated.”

That’s where Augmentive comes in. It was founded pre-pandemic in 2020 by brothers Kit, 28, and Archie, 31, and their therapist mother Sarah after the brothers realised that many of their friends were struggling to access mental health help easily. “When a friend took her own life in 2019, I realised that people need to be able to access mental health help as a preventative measure rather than later down the line,” says Kit.

The brothers used their background in web development and AI, and Sarah’s knowledge and experience as a therapist, to develop a platform that uses both tech and the human lens to pair people seeking help with accredited practitioners (they have 330) that best suited them.

If you’ve ever tried to find a therapist, you’ll know that simply deciphering the terminology can be a minefield. It can be hard to know the difference between a clinical psychologist, counsellor, coach, psychotherapist, chartered psychologist, CBT practitioner, never mind work out which one is right for you. And when you’re in a mental health crisis, at a time when Covid anxiety is also peaking, this can be that extra hurdle to getting the right help.

"The NHS has brilliant, professional support,” notes Sarah, “but the wait times are long and they are so overwhelmed that there can’t be a level of personalisation. Very often you end up seeing a therapist who doesn’t fit your needs at all and then you have to start again.”

Augmentive claims to get you talking to someone either IRL or virtually within a week, max. It could be sooner than this depending on you and your chosen therapist’s availability. “We’ve had clients talking to a therapist within five minutes of using our consultation service,” says Sarah.

To connect with a therapist, for free, you can set up a (confidential) profile which includes typing in some keywords about yourself, what you’re struggling with and what you’re looking to gain. You’ll then be shown profiles of suitable practitioners with whom you can choose to get in touch. “It’s as easy as ordering an Uber,"  says Kit. “Obviously I’m not undermining the seriousness of mental health but we sort out all of the logistics for you so that you’re in front of a suitable therapist as quickly as possible.”

Once you have found a therapist it’s up to you whether you go ahead and book an appointment with them. You arrange payment directly but can filter them according to your budget.

Alternatively, you can have a telephone conversation with their Concierge service, also for free, which acts as a form of triage. Here, you leave your first name and number and Sarah herself will call you back within 15 minutes for a one-to-one initial consultation to learn what you are hoping to get out of seeing a therapist. She then uses her expertise to match you. “Successful therapy is all based on the personal relationship,” says Sarah, “I’m yet to have someone ask for a new match!”

Being proactive about your mental health is something that Augmentive believes is the key to looking after yourself mentally and emotionally. “Investing in a therapist may sound like a big financial decision but actually you’d spend the same on a night out or a new outfit, which might make you feel better in the short term but the long-term benefits of investing in your mental health far outweigh those quick fixes, " says Kit.

Despite increasing rates of depression and anxiety,  diagnoses by GPs fell by almost a quarter  according to the ONS. This suggests that access to mental health care is in decline. “It’s so important to take back control of our mental health,” says Kit, and online services are enabling people to do just that. Virtual consultations, global access (you can pay in any currency and request therapists with specific cultural backgrounds and languages) help to mitigate the emotional and practical barriers that traditionally come with finding a therapist.

Find the right therapist for you online:

For a personalised service: Augmentive

A free service that matches you with a therapist to suit your needs. There are 330 therapists on the books who range from Cognitive Behavioural Therapists to Nutritional Coaches. Although they are mainly based in the UK, appointments can be made virtually so that anyone in the world can access the therapist they need. Augmentive has a Concierge telephone service for an initial consultation to find out what you are after to match you with the right therapist. If you have a specific language or cultural nuance that you’d like your therapist to have they will help you find someone suitable.

Augmentive are offering a £35 discount on the first session with any of the specialists on the platform when you quote GetTheGloss during the concierge call with Sarah. The offer expires on the 9th of January. Request a call with Sarah .

For regional therapists: welldoing.org

Founded by journalist Louise Chunn,  welldoing.org has over 1200 coaches and therapists across the UK. You can filter them yourself if you know what you’re after or pay £66 for a personalised matching service. There are also tonnes of useful resources and reading material to help support your mental health.

For on the go: Mindler

A mental health app that's quick and convenient to use wherever you are. Select a time and date and book in with a psychologist for a video consultation - once you have the app you can book in for an appointment immediately. All of the accredited psychologists on the app also have experience in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Prices start from £39 per session.

For mental wellbeing: Mindlabs

Think Peloton but for meditation. The world’s first live mental health platform is launching in early January and will offer live video classes with qualified therapists designed to help combat anxiety and loneliness. Sign up to the mailing list now to take advantage of the free classes being given out pre-app launch.

GET MORE GLOSS: An anxiety expert shares her tips to keep calm this Christmas