Does Internet-Based Self-Help Depression Treatment Work?

Self-help strategies for depression are considered vital elements of ongoing treatment. Methods such as engaging in regular exercise, getting adequate sleep, and staying active are encouraged for people suffering various levels of depression. In recent years, email interventions have been used to deliver treatment recommendations and reminders for a variety of mental health conditions and these approaches have been shown to be effective at reducing symptoms for posttraumatic stress, anxiety, and depression.

Therefore, Amy J. Morgan of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne in Australia wanted to test a new email delivery method called Mood Memos. The 12-week email intervention had been previously tested on moderately depressed individuals with some success. But to date, no test had been conducted using Mood Memos on a clinically depressed sample.

Morgan recruited over 1,700 adults with all severities of depression and assigned them to either 12 weeks of Mood Memos which included biweekly email messages promoting self-help behaviors, or to a control condition that included educational emails about depression. She found that although there was a high drop-out rate, all of the participants who completed the experiment showed signs of symptom improvement. Surprisingly, however, there was little difference between the Mood Memo group and the control group.

Because many of the participants were receiving other treatments as well, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medication, it was unclear whether this affected improvement independently from the Mood Memos. Morgan believes that although the most dramatic reductions in symptoms occurred after the first three emails, perhaps a longer trial would have shown differences in overall symptoms after the 12-week trial ended.

Furthermore, Morgan believes that the lack of outcome differences could be due to the unguided and unsupervised nature of the intervention.  She added, “Although the present intervention did not work under unguided conditions, it remains possible that it may have some effect under guided conditions.”

Morgan, A.J., Jorm, A.F., Mackinnon, A.J. (2013). Self-help for depression via e-mail: A randomized controlled trial of effects on depression and self-help behavior. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66537. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066537

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  • JoEllen


    July 13th, 2013 at 4:50 AM

    Laughed at first when I read this because I am always thinking of my kids telling me something and I will ask them how they know and they will tell me that they saw it on the internet so it must be true. And how I always have to tell them not to trust everything that they see online. Got to thinking about this though and just how credible much of the information actually is and how something like online treatment sites, even support groups, could be a wonderful addition to someone’s treatment plan. For many it could be the only resource that they have available. I know that if they are already in treatment it would be hard to isolate whether this is making the difference or if it is because it is conjunction with something else, but it sounds good enough to recognize that at lesat for some people this could be a real bonus.

  • gabe


    July 13th, 2013 at 11:42 AM

    I am all about ebing a go-getter and finding help for yourself if you have gotten to them point that you recognize that you need it. The worst thing that you can do is to ignore that feeling that you have that something just isn’t right. Seeking answers online could be a great first step for many people, while there will always be others who are going to find more comfort actually meeting someone face to face or even receiving meds to help with their problems. The big thing that I can take from this and that I hope that others will too is that treatment, like anything else, is never going to be a one size fits all. What helps me may not help you in the least bit. Where I amy feel afraid of symptoms that I read about online, someone else may find the same thing and feel comforted seeing that they are not alone. If it works, then it works, no matter what it is and what form that treatment and healking take.



    July 13th, 2013 at 11:29 PM

    Sometimes a little push is enough to take measures that help you in the long run.Now of course this may not be enough for everybody.But for those that can follow such prompts this should be encouraged.Nothing wrong in trying something that has no side effects right?!

  • C.Powell


    July 14th, 2013 at 10:16 PM

    I know for a fact that self-help wouldn’t work for me.Maybe it’s the low will power or something else but I can’t work with something like this.

    When there’s consistent guidance,things work out real well for me but trying to overcome a weakness all by myself?Not going to work.

  • kelly


    July 15th, 2013 at 4:23 AM

    Just be careful with these pursuits.
    It helps to look to only reputable sites or to receive recommendations from sites such as this.
    I know that we don’t like to think this but there are some places that are fly by night just looking for a way to make a quick buck.
    I would hate for someone to expereince even more pain because they place their trust in the wrong venue.
    There are bound to be some great websites to offer help and on the flip side there are unfortunately going to be some bad ones too.

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