Life in the age of endless information available online explodes with new opportunities all the time, in all areas of life, around the world. E-commerce has completely transformed the way we shop for things from appliances to clothing to groceries to houses and cars…and more. Social media has broadened, widened and deepened our social “circles”; many of us include “friends” in our online interactions we may never have met in real life. Medical references have turned from tools for helpful self-diagnosis to tools regularly utilized in office visits by doctors and nurses. And along those lines, online therapy programs seeking to provide help for sufferers of mental illnesses have sprung up as well.
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One main problem that most online programs encounter is that patients seeking help through these programs rarely follow-up with them if they are entirely self-guided. Interaction with mental health professionals, it seems, is vital to patients’ successful recoveries. Another problem is that while these programs have shown varying degrees of success in treating MDD -major depressive disorder, better-known as depression- they haven’t shown that they can prevent the development of depression in people who show signs that they may develop the disorder.
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A new study has shown that an online self-help program, guided by communication with counselors, has a significantly higher rate of preventing MDD instead of simply treating it. In establishing a control group and an intervention group, researchers studied 406 participants over a period of 12 months. Not all of the participants followed up, but the results from the 335 who did were distinctly positive: the onset of depression only developed in 27 percent of the intervention group, compared to 41 percent of the control group.
In the intervention group, participants were directed through a series of self-guided exercises reflecting their mental health and outlook on life, and given individualized feedback from a counselor afterwards. They were also able to follow up with the counselor via instant messaging. The control group only received information about depression, and were not required to read it.
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The study has its flaws, an independent analysis points out, like not knowing whether or not the participants were on prescribed antidepressant medications, and not addressing the cost of the program were it to be scaled up in any meaningful way.
Still, the news is more promising than it is lacking. Online programs have shown that, when followed as directed, they can be as helpful as face-to-face work with a mental health professional. Additionally, they can be low-cost, available at anytime, and are highly customizable. The consensus seems to be that as we continue to navigate through our infancy in this increasingly digital world, more and greater opportunities will arise. Some will succeed and some will fail, but all will be available, and the awesomeness of this experience is only beginning. We are just starting to understand what we are capable of doing, as we work together to resolve our problems, great and small.