International Demand

Digital interventions can help meet the growing demand for psychological treatment

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on mental health across the world. Depression is expected to be the leading cause of years of life lost to illness by 2030. At the same time, less than one in five people receive proper treatment.

Digital interventions – which bundle psychotherapeutic components into a computer program or mobile application – have been proposed as a way to address the unmet demand for psychological treatment. As digital interventions are increasingly adopted in private and public health systems, the researchers asked whether digital interventions are as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy, if the benefits are also found in healthcare facilities. public health and what is the role of human support.

A global team of researchers from the University of Helsinki (Finland), the University of Freiburg and the University of Ulm (Germany), the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and the University of Pavie (Italy) performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of digital interventions for the treatment of depression. A total of 83 unique studies published between 1990 and 2020 involving 15,530 people were included in the final analysis, making it the largest and most comprehensive analysis of digital interventions for the management of depression in this day.

The results of the meta-analysis are published in Psychological Bulletin.

“Software alone is not enough for many people”

Overall, researchers have found that digital interventions are effective in treating depression. However, human support is still needed to maximize adherence and achieve results similar to that of face-to-face therapy.

Digital interventions could provide a viable, evidence-based method of meeting the growing demand for mental health care, especially when people cannot access face-to-face therapy due to long wait lists, financial constraints or other obstacles. However, despite advances in technology, our research has shown that human support is still required to achieve results similar to face-to-face therapy. Software alone is just not enough for many people, especially people with moderate or more severe symptoms. “

Isaac Moshe, PhD researcher, University of Helsinki and lead author of the study

Although the support of a human is necessary to achieve effective results, the study found that there was no difference in results when the support was provided by highly trained clinicians and when it was provided by people with lower qualification levels, such as students or interns. Moshe says this opens up many possibilities for expanding these interventions by training support workers.

AI and new tech devices can help prevent mental illness

The rise of artificial intelligence and new technological devices could also have a key role to play in the prevention of mental illness.

“More than 3 billion people now own smartphones and wearable devices are growing in popularity. These devices produce a continuous stream of data related to a person’s behavior and physiology. With new developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, we now have some promising usage methods. this data to identify if someone is at risk of developing a mental illness. We can then use this data to offer personalized interventions early on to prevent symptoms from getting worse, ”says Dr Lasse Sander of the University of Friborg, who led the international research team.

Despite the promising opportunities for technology to help cope with the growing mental health crisis, Moshe recommends some caution:

“It’s important to note that the majority of studies to date have included people with mild to moderate depression. of digital interventions for the treatment of severe and complex depression. Another area where more research is desperately needed is in smartphone apps. Despite more than 10,000 smartphone apps targeting mental health available for download, we found only 4 well-conducted randomized controlled trials evaluating their effectiveness. “


Journal reference:

Moshe, me, et al. (2021) Digital interventions for the treatment of depression: a meta-analytical review. Psychological bulletin.