Mobilising to support key workers suffering from COVID-19

A charity born out of the Manchester Arena bombing is providing the first online platform for rapid, free ‘mental health first aid’ in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Trauma Response Network (TRN) was founded by Sean Gardner together with experts specialising in Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) to offer emergency online support in the aftermath of a mass trauma event. Sean, a businessman, was caught up in the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert.

In partnership with the EMDR Association UK, TRN will have up to 300 EMDR therapists trained in delivering the therapy online, for people suffering with mental health issues triggered by the current crisis. The hope is, subject to funding, to provide many more therapists to meet the expected demand, and provide high quality research outcomes led by Professor Ian Barron, University of Massachusetts.

“The evidence is that the earlier symptoms of trauma can be addressed, the more the potential impact can be reduced, but emergency ‘mental health first aid’ is not available widely to people right now in the way that hospitals are being equipped to support those infected with the coronavirus,” says Susan Darker-Smith, EMDR therapist and a founding member of Trauma Response Network.

The coronavirus pandemic has been compared to terrorism, with its component of ongoing fear. Researchers warn it could inflict long lasting emotional trauma worldwide, leaving millions without jobs, sending billions into isolation and force nearly everyone to grapple with the feeling that they or those they love are suddenly physically vulnerable.

Sean Gardner suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following the Manchester Arena bombing when he had to search for his daughter amongst the injured and dying.

He says:

“I was left stranded without mental health support, as were many others after the Manchester and London attacks and Grenfell Tower disaster. I don’t want the same thing to happen to people during the coronavirus crisis. Many will have lost their livelihoods, some their loved ones, or they may be feeling very vulnerable and need somewhere to turn for help, not least those who already had mental health issues which have become acute in the current climate.”

Following the Manchester bombing Sean suffered from severe flashbacks and mood swings and couldn’t sleep. He was referred to mental health services by his GP and filled in a questionnaire which found he was not suicidal. Sean says:

“I was told to wait and see whether the symptoms got worse over a period of three months. I sought help privately, and that’s when I was diagnosed with PTSD. After a few sessions of EMDR – a powerful therapy which specialises in treating people with mental health conditions brought on by trauma - I greatly improved.”

At the time of the Manchester Arena bombing there was no organisation set up to respond directly to acts of terrorism or mass trauma. Together with EMDR therapists – both clinicians and researchers - Sean helped to set up the charity Trauma Response Network, bringing his expertise running award winning online businesses, to provide free and anonymous trauma support.

Michael O’Connor President of the EMDR Association UK says:

“It’s vital that people are able to access mental health support during the coronavirus crisis, but NHS resources are under enormous pressure. TRN is ahead of the curve by having EMDR therapists ready and trained to offer the therapy online, and they are generously doing this in a voluntary capacity.

The EMDR Association is training its members to deliver the therapy online, so that EMDR therapists working both in the NHS and privately are able to continue offering the help that new and existing clients desperately need, which must be delivered online whilst social distancing is in place.

I worked with many children and families after the Dunblane massacre and there were many people needing mental health support in the weeks and months which followed the tragedy as their trauma surfaced. This is also likely to happen in the aftermath of the coronavirus.”

EMDR therapy is based on the idea that negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours are the result of unprocessed memories. Part of the therapy involves bilateral stimulation usually in the form of repeated side to side eye movements, whilst the person is asked to think about the traumatic memory. This helps them to reprocess the information like an ordinary memory, reducing its intensity.

EMDR is endorsed by the World Health Organisation, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and is available on the NHS. It’s practiced in around 30 countries and has helped millions world-wide, including responding to disasters across the globe through 60 trauma recovery networks.

Susan Darker Smith, EMDR therapist, specialises in childhood trauma. She says:

“I’m really concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on children as they struggle with survival guilt from the loss of older relatives, fears that they may be responsible for the illness and the fear or actual occurrence of being left orphaned. The majority of our child population will be impacted by these difficult and challenging times. These adverse childhood experiences can lead to physical and mental health issues in adulthood. It’s vital we start responding now to protect the next generation.”

Sean Gardner of TRN says:

“It is really good news that the government has allocated £5 million to be distributed to mental health support networks. TRN is already operational and ready for the current crisis, and very willing to share its expertise with other charities and organisations who are hoping to take therapeutic help online. We’re also hoping to benefit from government funding so that TRN can support many more people.”

Accessing EMDR therapy through TRN is simple. People need to fill in a contact form, after that a therapist will send an invitation to an appointment online. Up to 8 therapy sessions are offered over the next 12 weeks for free. TRN uses advanced Microsoft technology to provide therapy securely online The background will be blurred so that the client’s home cannot be seen, the session recorded and any documents exchanged privacy protected.

To access emergency free mental health support go to

To find out more about EMDR and find an accredited therapist visit

EMDR is a complex therapeutic process that must be delivered by accredited therapists.


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