Professors Helen Christensen and Andrew Mackinnon and Dr Kathy Griffiths at the Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR) at the Australian National University have found that internet-based interventions for depression can, in some cases, be as effective as direct human contact.
CMHR, a leader in the development of mental health information and intervention via the internet, has developed an online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) site, www.moodgym.anu.edu.au, and a psycho-education site, www.bluepages.anu.edu.au, which are accessed free of charge and anonymously by hundreds of thousands of users around the world. BluePages provides comprehensive information about a range of psychological, medical and alternative treatments.
The study, which evaluated the effectiveness of the two websites 12-months from initial contact, found that improvement in symptoms among users was maintained at 12 months, and in the case of depression, there was greater improvement over the longer term.
Researchers don't know exactly why the internet interventions are so effective in the longer term, but it may be that there is a reduction in use of ineffective and potentially damaging treatments. It may also be that the information on the websites really only becomes effective once people have put into place the treatments and practices recommended.
The findings also suggest that brief interventions may have a lasting positive effect on people struggling with depression - an outcome that may seem counter-intuitive given the low level of human support and interaction. But there is evidence in other areas as well that such brief interventions can be very helpful.
Professor Christensen said that the internet provided an effective way to reach people struggling with mental health in rural and remote areas, as well as providing easy access to information to the over 60%
of people affected by mental health problems who don't seek or receive any professional help.
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First Publishe in May 2007
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