Relieving mental health problems using digital interventions

(Montreal) It is possible to relieve mental health problems such as anxiety and depression using digital interventions, shows a new literature review published by researchers at Laval University.

Interventions using electronic messages would be most effective. They would have a positive effect on depression and anxiety, as would interventions that use websites, telehealth/telemedicine and software.

“There were several forms of intervention […]but any exchange of messages with their healthcare professional […] had an effect on the person living with mental health problems,” said Maxime Sasseville of VITAM, the Sustainable Health Research Center at Laval University.

Mr. Sasseville and his colleagues draw their conclusions from the analysis of 84 studies involving just over 11,000 participants.

They found that interventions that combine the use of technology and assistance from a healthcare professional have the greatest effect on symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Specifically, digital interventions that were partially supported by a health professional had more beneficial effects than self-administered interventions (without professional support) for anxiety and depression.

However, digital interventions fully guided by a health professional had beneficial effects for anxiety, but did not demonstrate an effect for depression. However, researchers note the low number of studies carried out on this aspect.

“It seemed extremely interesting to us because it showed us both that we can use technologies, but we saw a really potentiating effect of having a health professional to support patients who used these applications and these technologies- there,” said Mr. Sasseville.

One of the main challenges of self-administered digital mental health interventions is maintaining engagement and reducing dropouts, the authors point out. Partially supported interventions alleviate these difficulties, they say, by improving interactivity and personalization.

The use of digital interventions to expand access to mental health care grew significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, recalled Mr. Sasseville, since it was then necessary to find rapid responses and solutions to many problems.

But now that this “Pandora’s box” has been opened, and technologies have been rapidly integrated into the health system, the time has come to take stock, said Mr. Sasseville.

“Let’s take for example a ministry or a health center that would like to integrate a new technology, which does business with industry, and then decides to include one of these solutions in its service offering,” explained the researcher. This type of study can comfort and solidify certain choices. This gives us good indications of effectiveness before integrating an intervention into the health system. »

The use of such technologies can be “very interesting” for society, he added, since it could broaden the range of services to which, for example, residents of remote regions or even people who have mobility problems.

“It’s not an answer to everything,” said Mr. Sasseville. But returning to some post-pandemic normalcy, we can see greater applicability in certain places. We are starting to find a balance between contexts where we can use technology, while in others we can stay with in-person interventions. »

However, we must not lose sight of the fact that not everyone has equal access to the technologies necessary to potentially benefit from virtual services, he emphasized in closing.

The conclusions of this study were published by the scientific journal Systematic Reviews.

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