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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