2005-11-01

Health: Treating Depression On-Line

Depression can be treated on the Internet as effectively as through face-to-face sessions with a therapist, a new study has found. Researchers said depressives undergoing do-it-yourself self-help sessions reported similar improvement to those seen in previous studies of patients in clinical environments. The findings could prove valuable for sufferers in rural and remote areas of Scotland who have difficulty accessing therapists, the researchers said. The study, published by Swedish scientists in the new edition of 'The British Journal of Psychiatry', gives credence to the plethora of self-help courses available on-line for years. The work examined 177 Swedes, mostly women in remote northern areas, suffering from mild to moderate depression. One group underwent an Internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy treatment while a second group received no formal treatment. Both groups were allowed to chat among themselves in a 'discussion group'. The study found that those receiving internet-based therapy reported decreased depressive symptoms immediately after treatment and at a six-month follow-up. There were also benefits in terms of anxiety symptoms and quality of life. The researchers concluded that Internet-based self-help facilitates the spread of cognitive behavioural therapy, a proven form of treatment for mild depression. Cognitive behavioural therapy works by helping patients recognise and alter distorted or negative evaluations of neutral situations. The researchers wrote:
'It is known that depression can be treated with cognitive-behavioural therapy, but as skilled therapists are in short supply there is a need for self-help approaches. 'Outcome with Internet-based therapy resembles that in controlled studies of clinician-delivered therapy.'
However, the researchers expressed concern over the high drop-out rate -- 37 per cent -- of those receiving internet treatment. Ms.Anita Abrams, a clinical psychologist, said:
'The seriousness here is that quite a number in the study had to be excluded when it became clear they required treatment at a more personal level.
'Still, anything that reaches out to population which does not have the benefit of easy access to private clinics may save a life. It's worth persisting'.
A spokesman for 'Depression Alliance Scotland' said:
'Some people, especially men, find it easier to talk openly anonymously on-line. 'Internet support groups can be accessed day or night.
'You can "lurk" (read without posting) and find out what the group is like before you join in'.
A spokesman for 'The Scottish Executive' said
'As part of our "Doing Well" programme for depression, we have invested 4.5_million_GBP in ten pilot internet sites with self-help materials.'
'Online therapy does help beat depression', Eben Harrell, The Scotsman, 2005-11-01, Tu

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