There has been ongoing research and discussion about the use of digital health tools in the treatment of mental health disorders, and also in the prevention of more severe symptoms of those disorders. One study conducted by researchers in Germany and the Netherlands, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), showed promising results for the use of web-based, guided self-help intervention for the prevention of major depressive disorder (MDD).
According to the researchers, evidence-based treatments for MDD are not very successful in improving functional and health outcomes, and attention has increasingly been focused on the prevention of MDD.
For the study, researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial from March 2013 through March 2015 involved 406 adults with subthreshold depression, or those adults with a Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale score greater than or at 16 and no current MDD according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Study participants were divided into two groups, with both groups having access to usual care, such as visits to a primary care clinician. However, one group also had access to a web-based guided self-help intervention, which involved cognitive-behavioral and problem-solving therapy supported by an online trainer.
The researchers wanted to examine the time to onset of MDD in the intervention group relative to the control group over a 12-month follow-up period.
The results of the 12-month follow-up indicated that 27 percent of the study participants in the intervention group experienced major depressive disorder symptoms compared to 41 percent in the control group.
The researchers concluded that among patients with subthreshold depression, “the use of web-based guided self-help intervention compared with enhanced usual care reduced the incidence of MDD over 12 months.”
However, the researchers also noted that further research is need to examine “whether the effects are generalizable to both first onset of depression and depression recurrence as well as efficacy without the use of an online trainer.”