Digital Psychotherapy Helps Manage Depression Symptoms

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists from the University of Helsinki have studied the effectiveness of digital approaches to treating depression and have shown that therapy via a smartphone or computer can help cope with symptoms of depression, and when remotely guided by a specialist, it is not inferior in effectiveness to personal psychotherapy.

The Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted mental health worldwide, and depression is projected to be the leading cause of years of life lost due to illness by 2030 . However, not everyone in need of therapy has access to appropriate treatment.

One of the possible solutions is the transition to digital format, when therapy is carried out using computers or smartphones. The authors of the new work tested how digital approaches are effective for treating depression and whether they can be an alternative to personal psychotherapy.

Scientists conducted a meta-analysis of 83 studies of digital applications for the treatment of depression published over the past 30 years. In total, 15,530 people took part in them, among whom the majority – 80% – were adults, and there were slightly more women than men – 69.5%. All studies were randomized controlled trials, that is, participants were randomly assigned to a control group and an experimental group.

In the experimental group, people received digital interventional treatment, and in the control group, they received either no impact, or traditional treatment or personal psychotherapy. The degree of depression symptoms in the subjects ranged from mild to moderate.

The researchers found that digital interventions helped manage depression symptoms, but the effect was not as strong as in a similar meta-analysis on personal therapy. However, in the event that digital therapy was carried out under the direct supervision of a person, albeit remotely, no statistical differences in effectiveness were found.

At the same time, the type of device – a computer or a smartphone – that was used for therapy did not matter. The authors were unable to compare digital strategies with drug therapy due to the lack of relevant studies.

In addition, the researchers found that only about half of the participants completed treatment, a rate that was half the rate for near-real-world studies compared to laboratory experiments. The authors of the article believe that this may partially explain the difference in the effectiveness of the methods studied under different conditions.

In general, scientists believe that digital approaches, especially those under the direct supervision of a specialist, can become an important part of therapy for depression. This is especially true during a pandemic: on the one hand, they have affected the mental health of many, and on the other, they force to reduce personal contacts, limiting the possibilities of personal therapy.

An article with the results of the study was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin .

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