Psychologists from Indiana University have found that a series of self-guided, internet-based therapy platforms can effectively reduce depression.
Effectively Alleviate Depression
In their new study, Lorenzo Lorenzo-Luaces and colleagues reviewed 21 earlier studies that involved nearly 4,800 participants.
Many of the studies in the analysis compared the use of internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps, or iCBT apps, with the use of a "fake app" that made weak recommendations to the user or being placed on a waitlist for therapy.
The researchers found that internet-based therapy platforms effectively alleviate depression and worked significantly better than fake apps and placements on a therapy waitlist.
"A conservative interpretation of our findings is that the patient population sampled in the literature on self-guided iCBT is relatively comparable with that of studies of antidepressants or face-to-face psychotherapy," Lorenzo-Luaces and colleagues wrote in their study, which was published in the November issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
Helpful For A Large Number Of People
The researchers also said that the apps and platforms do not just help those with mild depressions, but also those with more serious mental health conditions.
"I thought past studies were probably focused on people with very mild depression, those who did not have other mental health problems, and were at low risk for suicide," Lorenzo-Luaces said. "To my surprise, that was not the case. The science suggests that these apps and platforms can help a large number of people."
The researchers nonetheless said that the findings do not mean that patients should stop taking their medications. They said that antidepressants and face-to-face therapy may still prove to be more effective for patients compared with iCBT apps alone.
Lorenzo-Luaces also said that people tend to do better when they get some guidance, albeit he said that 10- to 15-minute check-in may be enough for many people. App-based therapy likewise offers an advantage in cases where access to face-to-face therapy is limited.
Mental Health In The United States
The findings come at a time when the number of people with mental health disorders such as depression far outnumbers the mental health professionals who can help and treat them. The study suggests that iCBT apps can serve as an important new tool in addressing this public health issue.