One of the most common mental illnesses in the United States is depression; according to the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses (NAMI), roughly 16 million Americans must contend with major depression on regular basis. A report from the land down under suggests that relief for this condition may come from an unexpected source.
Sleepy and Sad
Appearing in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, this particular study was authored by a group of eight Australian doctors, along with two American contributors. A total of 1,149 adults participated in this research. Not only did all of these individuals have depression, but they were also coping with the effects of insomnia.
At the onset of study, the researchers divided their subjects into two groups; one group was required to complete a six week, online program designed to treat insomnia. This program is known as SHUTi, and seeks to alleviate insomnia symptoms via cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The other set of adults was assigned to a control group, and asked to follow an internet-based placebo program, which likewise took six weeks to complete.
Though it might seem fairly easy to participate in an online exercise, both groups suffered from high dropout rates, with more subjects quitting the SHUTi program. Those who completed their treatment regimen appeared to enjoy better mental health, as the prevalence of depression symptoms declined in each group. However, the data collected by the authors revealed that the SHUTi approach was more successful:
- Six weeks into the study, 42% of those in the control subset were no longer depressed. This figure stood at 71% in the CBT group.
- Slightly more than half (52%) of control subjects were depression-free six months after the study began. In contrast, 73% of adults receiving online CBT no longer had depression at this point.
- At six weeks, the rate of moderately severe depression in the control group was 6%, falling to 4% by the six month mark. For those undergoing the SHUTi therapy, the six week/six month rates for this condition were 8% and 3%, respectively.
The study was not without limitations. Aside from the high number of dropouts, the researchers also had scant information about the subjects’ past histories of depression (or lack thereof). Because of this lack of data, the study could not say for sure which adults had previously suffered from this condition.
In spite of these hindrances, the research team still contends that the impact of depression could be mitigated by online therapy. In summarizing their findings, the authors wrote that “online cognitive behaviour therapy for insomnia treatment is a practical and effective way to reduce depression symptoms and could be capable of reducing depression at the population level by use of a fully automatised system with the potential for wide dissemination.”