A new study has suggested that those experiencing the onset of depression might be able to prevent the full-blown disorder by completing some self-help exercises online.
According to the Huffington Post, researchers found that men and women who had some symptoms of depression who used a web-based mental health programme supported by an online trainer were surprisingly less likely to experience a major depressive episode. This was in comparison to people who also had symptoms of depression but were only given online access to educational materials about the signs of depression and its treatment.
The study, published in JAMA, focused on individuals who were beginning to see the telltale signs of depression.
The researchers examined 406 adults with subthreshold depression, meaning they had some symptoms of depression but no diagnosis of a major depressive disorder. The patients were 45 years old on average, and the majority (74%) were women. In the study, the participants were divided in half and either given a web-based, guided self-help intervention, which involved cognitive-behavioral and problem-solving therapy with an online trainer, or a web-based psychoeducation programme and all participants were able to able to visit their primary care doctors as needed.
A follow-up was conducted a year later, and it was found that just 27% of patients in the online intervention group experienced what was deemed “major depressive disorder” – this typically refers to those who feel depressed almost every day – compared to 41% in the group using the psychoeducation programme online. Though it was a small study, it hints that combining online self-help interventions with access to regular physical care can be quite helpful in treating or preventing depression.
“The findings show that the delivery of preventive mental health interventions via the Internet may be a promising way to reach individuals who are at an early stage of depression, and that it may also help prevent their transition to a full-blown depressive disorder,” said study author Claudia Buntrock, adding that it was equally important to recognise early symptoms of depression and focus on preventing them from developing.
“Future studies should clarify whether web-based, guided self-help programmes are effective at preventing the first onset of depression as well as its recurrence,” she added.
The programme is continuing to be tested and developed in Germany.