Providing an online therapy may be a more effective treatment for anxiety and depression than usual primary care, scientists have found. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in the US enrolled 704 depressed and anxious patients who were between 18 to 75 years old.
They showed that providing an online computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (CCBT) programme both alone and in combination with Internet Support Groups (ISG) provided better outcomes for patients.
The participants were randomised to one of three groups: care manager-guided access to the eight-session Beating the Blues CCBT programme; care manager-guided access to both the CCBT programme and a password-protected ISG patients could access 24/7 via smartphone or desktop computer; or usual behavioural health care from their primary care physician.
Over the six-month intervention, 83% of patients randomised to CCBT started the programme, and they completed an average of 5.3 sessions. Of those assigned to the ISG programme, 77% logged into the site at least once, and 46% provided one or more posts or comments.
Six months later, those patients randomised to CCBT reported significant improvements in their mood and anxiety symptoms and the more CCBT sessions patients completed, the greater the improvement in mood and anxiety symptoms. Although patients randomised to both CCBT and ISG had similar overall improvements in mood and anxiety symptoms compared to patients randomised to only CCBT, secondary analysis showed those who engaged more with the ISG tended to experience greater improvements in symptoms.
ISG that enable individuals with similar conditions to access and exchange self-help information and emotional support have proliferated in recent years, but benefits have yet to be established in randomised trials, researchers said.
“Our study findings have important implications for transforming the way mental health care is delivered,” said Bruce L Rollman, professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “Providing depressed and anxious patients with access to these emerging technologies may be an ideal method to deliver effective mental health treatment, especially to those who live in areas with limited access to care resources or who have transportation difficulties or work/home obligations that make in-person counselling difficult to obtain,” he said.