JMIR Publications

JMIR Mental Health

Internet interventions, technologies and digital innovations for mental health and behaviour change

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Journal Description

JMIR Mental Health (JMH, ISSN 2368-7959) is a new spin-off journal of JMIR, the leading eHealth journal (Impact Factor 2015: 4.532). 

JMIR Mental Health focusses on digital health and Internet interventions, technologies and electronic innovations (software and hardware) for mental health, addictions, online counselling and behaviour change. This includes formative evaluation and system descriptions, theoretical papers, review papers, viewpoint/vision papers, and rigorous evaluations.

JMIR Mental Health publishes even faster and has a broader scope with including papers which are more technical or more formative/developmental than what would be published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research

JMIR Mental Health features a rapid and thorough peer-review process, professional copyediting, professional production of PDF, XHTML, and XML proofs.

JMIR Mental Health adheres to the same quality standards as JMIR and all articles published here are also cross-listed in the Table of Contents of JMIR, the worlds' leading medical journal in health sciences / health services research and health informatics.

Editorial Board members are currently being recruited, please contact us if you are interested (jmir.editorial.office at gmail.com).

 

Recent Articles:

  • Image Source: 459, copyright John Loo,
https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnloo/8357285440/, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution cc-by 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

    Feasibility and Outcomes of an Internet-Based Mindfulness Training Program: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial

    Abstract:

    Background: Interventions based on meditation and mindfulness techniques have been shown to reduce stress and increase psychological well-being in a wide variety of populations. Self-administrated Internet-based mindfulness training programs have the potential to be a convenient, cost-effective, easily disseminated, and accessible alternative to group-based programs. Objective: This randomized controlled pilot trial with 90 university students in Stockholm, Sweden, explored the feasibility, usability, acceptability, and outcomes of an 8-week Internet-based mindfulness training program. Methods: Participants were randomly assigned to either an intervention (n=46) or an active control condition (n=44). Intervention participants were invited to an Internet-based 8-week mindfulness program, and control participants were invited to an Internet-based 4-week expressive writing program. The programs were automated apart from weekly reminders via email. Main outcomes in pre- and postassessments were psychological well-being and depression symptoms. To assess the participant’s experiences, those completing the full programs were asked to fill out an assessment questionnaire and 8 of the participants were interviewed using a semistructured interview guide. Descriptive and inferential statistics, as well as content analysis, were performed. Results: In the mindfulness program, 28 out of 46 students (60%) completed the first week and 18 out of 46 (39%) completed the full program. In the expressive writing program, 35 out of 44 students (80%) completed the first week and 31 out of 44 (70%) completed the full program. There was no statistically significantly stronger intervention effect for the mindfulness intervention compared to the active control intervention. Those completing the mindfulness group reported high satisfaction with the program. Most of those interviewed were satisfied with the layout and technique and with the support provided by the study coordinators. More frequent contact with study coordinators was suggested as a way to improve program adherence and completion. Most participants considered the program to be meaningful and helpful but also challenging. The flexibility in performing the exercises at a suitable time and place was appreciated. A major difficulty was, however, finding enough time to practice. Conclusions: The program was usable, acceptable, and showed potential for increasing psychological well-being for those completing it. However, additional modification of the program might be needed to increase retention and compliance. ClinicalTrial: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02062762; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT0206276 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6j9I5SGJ4)

  • mHealth on screen. Image created and copyright owned by Authors Sebastian Hökby et al.

    Are Mental Health Effects of Internet Use Attributable to the Web-Based Content or Perceived Consequences of Usage? A Longitudinal Study of European Adolescents

    Abstract:

    Background: Adolescents and young adults are among the most frequent Internet users, and accumulating evidence suggests that their Internet behaviors might affect their mental health. Internet use may impact mental health because certain Web-based content could be distressing. It is also possible that excessive use, regardless of content, produces negative consequences, such as neglect of protective offline activities. Objective: The objective of this study was to assess how mental health is associated with (1) the time spent on the Internet, (2) the time spent on different Web-based activities (social media use, gaming, gambling, pornography use, school work, newsreading, and targeted information searches), and (3) the perceived consequences of engaging in those activities. Methods: A random sample of 2286 adolescents was recruited from state schools in Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Questionnaire data comprising Internet behaviors and mental health variables were collected and analyzed cross-sectionally and were followed up after 4 months. Results: Cross-sectionally, both the time spent on the Internet and the relative time spent on various activities predicted mental health (P<.001), explaining 1.4% and 2.8% variance, respectively. However, the consequences of engaging in those activities were more important predictors, explaining 11.1% variance. Only Web-based gaming, gambling, and targeted searches had mental health effects that were not fully accounted for by perceived consequences. The longitudinal analyses showed that sleep loss due to Internet use (ß=.12, 95% CI=0.05-0.19, P=.001) and withdrawal (negative mood) when Internet could not be accessed (ß=.09, 95% CI=0.03-0.16, P<.01) were the only consequences that had a direct effect on mental health in the long term. Perceived positive consequences of Internet use did not seem to be associated with mental health at all. Conclusions: The magnitude of Internet use is negatively associated with mental health in general, but specific Web-based activities differ in how consistently, how much, and in what direction they affect mental health. Consequences of Internet use (especially sleep loss and withdrawal when Internet cannot be accessed) seem to predict mental health outcomes to a greater extent than the specific activities themselves. Interventions aimed at reducing the negative mental health effects of Internet use could target its negative consequences instead of the Internet use itself. Trial Registration: International Standard Randomized Controlled Trial Number (ISRCTN): 65120704; http://www.isrctn.com/ISRCTN65120704?q=&filters=recruitmentCountry:Lithuania&sort=&offset= 5&totalResults=32&page=1&pageSize=10&searchType=basic-search (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation/abcdefg)

  • Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/apple-desk-office-technology-1185; CC0 Public domain, modified by authors.

    Achieving Consensus for the Design and Delivery of an Online Intervention to Support Midwives in Work-Related Psychological Distress: Results From a Delphi...

    Abstract:

    Background: Some midwives are known to experience both professional and organizational sources of psychological distress, which can manifest as a result of the emotionally demanding midwifery work, and the traumatic work environments they endure. An online intervention may be one option midwives may engage with in pursuit of effective support. However, the priorities for the development of an online intervention to effectively support midwives in work-related psychological distress have yet to be explored. Objective: The aim of this study was to explore priorities in the development of an online intervention to support midwives in work-related psychological distress. Methods: A two-round online Delphi study was conducted. This study invited both qualitative and quantitative data from experts recruited via a scoping literature search and social media channels. Results: In total, 185 experts were invited to participate in this Delphi study. Of all participants invited to contribute, 35.7% (66/185) completed Round 1 and of those who participated in this first round, 67% (44/66) continued to complete Round 2. Out of 39 questions posed over two rounds, 18 statements (46%) achieved consensus, 21 (54%) did not. Participants were given the opportunity to write any additional comments as free text. In total, 1604 free text responses were collected and categorized into 2446 separate statements of opinion, creating a total of 442 themes. Overall, participants agreed that in order to effectively support midwives in work-related psychological distress, online interventions should make confidentiality and anonymity a high priority, along with 24-hour mobile access, effective moderation, an online discussion forum, and additional legal, educational, and therapeutic components. It was also agreed that midwives should be offered a simple user assessment to identify those people deemed to be at risk of either causing harm to others or experiencing harm themselves, and direct them to appropriate support. Conclusions: This study has identified priorities for the development of online interventions to effectively support midwives in work-related psychological distress. The impact of any future intervention of this type will be optimized by utilizing these findings in the development process.

  • Image Source: stress, copyright trizoultro,
http://tinyurl.com/jdy5eo7, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution cc-by 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

    Predicting Risk of Suicide Attempt Using History of Physical Illnesses From Electronic Medical Records

    Abstract:

    Background: Although physical illnesses, routinely documented in electronic medical records (EMR), have been found to be a contributing factor to suicides, no automated systems use this information to predict suicide risk. Objective: The aim of this study is to quantify the impact of physical illnesses on suicide risk, and develop a predictive model that captures this relationship using EMR data. Methods: We used history of physical illnesses (except chapter V: Mental and behavioral disorders) from EMR data over different time-periods to build a lookup table that contains the probability of suicide risk for each chapter of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision (ICD-10) codes. The lookup table was then used to predict the probability of suicide risk for any new assessment. Based on the different lengths of history of physical illnesses, we developed six different models to predict suicide risk. We tested the performance of developed models to predict 90-day risk using historical data over differing time-periods ranging from 3 to 48 months. A total of 16,858 assessments from 7399 mental health patients with at least one risk assessment was used for the validation of the developed model. The performance was measured using area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC). Results: The best predictive results were derived (AUC=0.71) using combined data across all time-periods, which significantly outperformed the clinical baseline derived from routine risk assessment (AUC=0.56). The proposed approach thus shows potential to be incorporated in the broader risk assessment processes used by clinicians. Conclusions: This study provides a novel approach to exploit the history of physical illnesses extracted from EMR (ICD-10 codes without chapter V-mental and behavioral disorders) to predict suicide risk, and this model outperforms existing clinical assessments of suicide risk.

  • OCD? Not Me! Logo. Copyright © 2013 - 2016 Curtin University; https://www.ocdnotme.com.au. Women with a sign. CC0 License. Image retrieved from https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-girl-model-business-34543/.

    Online Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Treatment: Preliminary Results of the “OCD? Not Me!” Self-Guided Internet-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Program...

    Abstract:

    Background: The development and evaluation of Internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) interventions provides a potential solution for current limitations in the acceptability, availability, and accessibility of mental health care for young people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Preliminary results support the effectiveness of therapist-assisted iCBT for young people with OCD; however, no previous studies have examined the effectiveness of completely self-guided iCBT for OCD in young people. Objective: We aimed to conduct a preliminary evaluation of the effectiveness of the OCD? Not Me! program for reducing OCD-related psychopathology in young people (12-18 years). This program is an eight-stage, completely self-guided iCBT treatment for OCD, which is based on exposure and response prevention. Methods: These data were early and preliminary results of a longer study in which an open trial design is being used to evaluate the effectiveness of the OCD? Not Me! program. Participants were required to have at least subclinical levels of OCD to be offered the online program. Participants with moderate-high suicide/self-harm risk or symptoms of eating disorder or psychosis were not offered the program. OCD symptoms and severity were measured at pre- and posttest, and at the beginning of each stage of the program. Data was analyzed using generalized linear mixed models. Results: A total of 334 people were screened for inclusion in the study, with 132 participants aged 12 to 18 years providing data for the final analysis. Participants showed significant reductions in OCD symptoms (P<.001) and severity (P<.001) between pre- and posttest. Conclusions: These preliminary results suggest that fully automated iCBT holds promise as a way of increasing access to treatment for young people with OCD; however, further research needs to be conducted to replicate the results and to determine the feasibility of the program. Trial Registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ANZCTR): ACTRN12613000152729; https://www.anzctr.org.au/Trial/Registration/TrialReview.aspx?id=363654 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/ 6iD7EDFqH)

  • Innovation-Image created and copyright owned by authors Hamish Fulford.

    Exploring the Use of Information and Communication Technology by People With Mood Disorder: A Systematic Review and Metasynthesis

    Abstract:

    Background: There is a growing body of evidence relating to how information and communication technology (ICT) can be used to support people with physical health conditions. Less is known regarding mental health, and in particular, mood disorder. Objective: To conduct a metasynthesis of all qualitative studies exploring the use of ICTs by people with mood disorder. Methods: Searches were run in eight electronic databases using a systematic search strategy. Qualitative and mixed-method studies published in English between 2007 and 2014 were included. Thematic synthesis was used to interpret and synthesis the results of the included studies. Results: Thirty-four studies were included in the synthesis. The methodological design of the studies was qualitative or mixed-methods. A global assessment of study quality identified 22 studies as strong and 12 weak with most having a typology of findings either at topical or thematic survey levels of data transformation. A typology of ICT use by people with mood disorder was created as a result of synthesis. Conclusions: The systematic review and metasynthesis clearly identified a gap in the research literature as no studies were identified, which specifically researched how people with mood disorder use mobile ICT. Further qualitative research is recommended to understand the meaning this type of technology holds for people. Such research might provide valuable information on how people use mobile technology in their lives in general and also, more specifically, how they are being used to help with their mood disorders.

  • Image Source: On call 24/7, copyright Helge V. Keitel,
https://www.flickr.com/photos/17088227@N00/21236578204, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution cc-by 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

    Implementation of a Substance Use Recovery Support Mobile Phone App in Community Settings: Qualitative Study of Clinician and Staff Perspectives of...

    Abstract:

    Background: Research supports the effectiveness of technology-based treatment approaches for substance use disorders. These approaches have the potential to broaden the reach of evidence-based care. Yet, there is limited understanding of factors associated with implementation of technology-based care approaches in different service settings. Objectives: In this study, we explored provider and staff perceptions of facilitators and barriers to implementation of a mobile phone substance use recovery support app with clients in 4 service settings. Methods: Interviews were conducted with leadership and provider stakeholders (N=12) from 4 agencies in the first year of an implementation trial of the mobile phone app. We used the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research as the conceptual foundation for identifying facilitators and barriers to implementation. Results: Implementation process facilitators included careful planning of all aspects of implementation before launch, engaging a dedicated team to implement and foster motivation, working collaboratively with the app development team to address technical barriers and adapt the app to meet client and agency needs, and consistently reviewing app usage data to inform progress. Implementation support strategies included training all staff to promote organization awareness about the recovery support app and emphasize its priority as a clinical care tool, encouraging clients to try the technology before committing to use, scaling rollout to clients, setting clear expectations with clients about use of the app, and using peer coaches and consistent client-centered messaging to promote engagement. Perceived compatibility of the mobile phone app with agency and client needs and readiness to implement emerged as salient agency-level implementation facilitators. Facilitating characteristics of the recovery support app itself included evidence of its impact for recovery support, perceived relative advantage of the app over usual care, the ability to adapt the app to improve client use, and its ease of use. The mobile phone itself was a strong motivation for clients to opt in to use the app in settings that provided phones. App access was limited in settings that did not provide phones owing to lack of mobile phone ownership or incompatibility of the app with clients’ mobile phones. Individual differences in technology literacy and provider beliefs about substance use care either facilitated or challenged implementation. Awareness of patient needs and resources facilitated implementation, whereas external policies and regulations regarding technology use introduced barriers to implementation. Conclusions: The conceptually grounded facilitators and barriers identified in this study can guide systematic targeting of strategies to improve implementation of mobile phone interventions in community treatment settings. Results also inform the design of technology-based therapeutic tools. This study highlights directions for research with regard to implementation of technology-based behavioral health care approaches.

  • Patient with VR goggles at Cedars-Sinai Health System. Source and copyright: the authors.

    Feasibility of an Immersive Virtual Reality Intervention for Hospitalized Patients: An Observational Cohort Study

    Abstract:

    Background: Virtual reality (VR) offers immersive, realistic, three-dimensional experiences that “transport” users to novel environments. Because VR is effective for acute pain and anxiety, it may have benefits for hospitalized patients; however, there are few reports using VR in this setting. Objective: The aim was to evaluate the acceptability and feasibility of VR in a diverse cohort of hospitalized patients. Methods: We assessed the acceptability and feasibility of VR in a cohort of patients admitted to an inpatient hospitalist service over a 4-month period. We excluded patients with motion sickness, stroke, seizure, dementia, nausea, and in isolation. Eligible patients viewed VR experiences (eg, ocean exploration; Cirque du Soleil; tour of Iceland) with Samsung Gear VR goggles. We then conducted semistructured patient interview and performed statistical testing to compare patients willing versus unwilling to use VR. Results: We evaluated 510 patients; 423 were excluded and 57 refused to participate, leaving 30 participants. Patients willing versus unwilling to use VR were younger (mean 49.1, SD 17.4 years vs mean 60.2, SD 17.7 years; P=.01); there were no differences by sex, race, or ethnicity. Among users, most reported a positive experience and indicated that VR could improve pain and anxiety, although many felt the goggles were uncomfortable. Conclusions: Most inpatient users of VR described the experience as pleasant and capable of reducing pain and anxiety. However, few hospitalized patients in this “real-world” series were both eligible and willing to use VR. Consistent with the “digital divide” for emerging technologies, younger patients were more willing to participate. Future research should evaluate the impact of VR on clinical and resource outcomes. ClinicalTrial: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT02456987; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02456987 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6iFIMRNh3)

  • Image Source: i-life, copyright Patrick Mayon,
https://www.flickr.com/photos/patrickmayon/1403874113/in/photolist-87b229-394dS6-cXkWTs-k2etby-ebNQon-6nFXXH-4X5W4y-76mjhW-BNSrr,
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution cc-by 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

    The Preference for Internet-Based Psychological Interventions by Individuals Without Past or Current Use of Mental Health Treatment Delivered Online: A...

    Abstract:

    Background: The use of the Internet has the potential to increase access to evidence-based mental health services for a far-reaching population at a low cost. However, low take-up rates in routine care indicate that barriers for implementing Internet-based interventions have not yet been fully identified. Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the preference for Internet-based psychological interventions as compared to treatment delivered face to face among individuals without past or current use of mental health treatment delivered online. A further aim was to investigate predictors of treatment preference and to complement the quantitative analyses with qualitative data about the perceived advantages and disadvantages of Internet-based interventions. Methods: Two convenience samples were used. Sample 1 was recruited in an occupational setting (n=231) and Sample 2 consisted of individuals previously treated for cancer (n=208). Data were collected using a paper-and-pencil survey and analyzed using mixed methods. Results: The preference for Internet-based psychological interventions was low in both Sample 1 (6.5%) and Sample 2 (2.6%). Most participants preferred psychological interventions delivered face to face. Use of the Internet to search for and read health-related information was a significant predictor of treatment preference in both Sample 1 (odds ratio [OR] 2.82, 95% CI 1.18-6.75) and Sample 2 (OR 3.52, 95% CI 1.33-9.29). Being born outside of Sweden was a significant predictor of preference for Internet-based interventions, but only in Sample 2 (OR 6.24, 95% CI 1.29-30.16). Similar advantages and disadvantages were mentioned in both samples. Perceived advantages of Internet-based interventions included flexibility regarding time and location, low effort, accessibility, anonymity, credibility, user empowerment, and improved communication between therapist and client. Perceived disadvantages included anonymity, low credibility, impoverished communication between therapist and client, fear of negative side effects, requirements of computer literacy, and concerns about confidentiality. Conclusions: Internet-based interventions were reported as the preferred choice by a minority of participants. The results suggest that Internet-based interventions have specific advantages that may facilitate help-seeking among some individuals and some disadvantages that may restrict its use. Initiatives to increase treatment acceptability may benefit from addressing the advantages and disadvantages reported in this study.

  • Statistics overview of trauma-related emotions and experiences. In this case, the patient chose to monitor fear (red). The time-dependent change of trauma-related emotions can be exported to a CSV file for research and feedback purposes.

    Computer-Assisted In Sensu Exposure for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Development and Evaluation

    Abstract:

    Background: Dissociative states during psychotherapy sessions reduce the benefit of exposure-based therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thus, in evidence-based therapeutic programs such as dialectical behavior therapy for PTSD (DBT-PTSD), therapists apply specific antidissociative skills to reduce dissociative features during in sensu exposure. In addition to therapist-guided sessions, exposure protocols often require that the patients listen to audio recordings of exposure sessions in self-management. The problem of how to prevent dissociative features during such self-administered exposure exercises has not been resolved yet. Hence, we developed the computer program MORPHEUS that supports the application of self-administered exposure exercises. MORPHEUS continuously monitors the level of dissociative states and offers state-related antidissociative skills. Objective: This study sought to examine the acceptance and feasibility of the MORPHEUS program. Methods: Patients who underwent 12 weeks of residential DBT-PTSD treatment used MORPHEUS during exposure exercises in self-management. After the treatment, they filled out evaluation questionnaires. Results: In sum, 26 patients receiving a 12-week standard DBT-PTSD program participated in this study; 2 participants could not be analyzed because of missing data. All the patients used MORPHEUS as often as it was required according to the DBT-PTSD treatment (2 to 5 times a week). The overall acceptance and feasibility as rated by the patients was high: for example, patients found the skills useful to block dissociation (mean 4.24 on a scale from 0 to 5, SD 0.24) and stated that they would use the program again (mean 4.72 on a scale from 0 to 5, SD 0.11). Furthermore, patients indicated that they would recommend MORPHEUS to a friend (mean 4.44 on a scale from 0 to 5, SD 0.12). In 82% (32/39) of the cases, the use of antidissociative skills was related to a decrease in dissociation. In 18% (5/39), dissociation remained unchanged or increased. Conclusions: The evaluative data suggest high acceptability and feasibility of MORPHEUS. Further studies should evaluate the effectiveness of the skills applied during the program. Trial Registration: World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform: DRKS00006226; http://apps.who.int/trialsearch/Trial2.aspx?TrialID= DRKS00006226 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/ 6hxuFbIUr)

  • Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/i9LD4EcwUQE; CC0 Public Domain.

    Mobile Health for All: Public-Private Partnerships Can Create a New Mental Health Landscape

    Authors List:

    Abstract:

    Research has already demonstrated that different mHealth approaches are feasible, acceptable, and clinically promising for people with mental health problems. With a robust evidence base just over the horizon, now is the time for policy makers, researchers, and the private sector to partner in preparation for the near future. The Lifeline Assistance Program is a useful model to draw from. Created in 1985 by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Lifeline is a nationwide program designed to help eligible low-income individuals obtain home phone and landline services so they can pursue employment, reach help in case of emergency, and access social services and healthcare. In 2005, recognizing the broad shift towards mobile technology and mobile-cellular infrastructure, the FCC expanded the program to include mobile phones and data plans. The FCC provides a base level of federal support, but individual states are responsible for regional implementation, including engagement of commercial mobile phone carriers. Given the high rates of disability and poverty among people with severe mental illness, many are eligible to benefit from Lifeline and research has shown that a large proportion does in fact use this program to obtain a mobile phone and data plan. In the singular area of mobile phone use, the gap between people with severe mental illness and the general population in the U.S. is vanishing. Strategic multi-partner programs will be able to grant access to mHealth for mental health programs to those who will not be able to afford them—arguably, the people who need them the most. Mobile technology manufacturing costs are dropping. Soon all mobile phones in the marketplace, including the more inexpensive devices that are made available through subsidy programs, will have “smart” capabilities (ie, internet connectivity and the capacity to host apps). Programs like Lifeline could be expanded to include mHealth resources that capitalize on “smart” functions, such as secure/encrypted clinical texting programs and mental health monitoring and illness-management apps. Mobile phone hardware and software development companies could be engaged to add mHealth programs as a standard component in the suite of tools that come installed on their mobile phones; thus, in addition to navigation apps, media players, and games, the new Android or iPhone could come with guided relaxation videos, medication reminder systems, and evidence-based self-monitoring and self-management tools. Telecommunication companies could be encouraged to offer mHealth options with their data plans. Operating system updates pushed out by the mobile carrier companies could come with optional mHealth applications for those who elect to download them. In the same manner in which the Lifeline Assistance Program has helped increase access to fundamental opportunities to so many low-income individuals, innovative multi-partner programs have the potential to put mHealth for mental health resources in the hands of millions in the years ahead.

  • Source: http://tinyurl.com/z8n774w; CC0 Public Domain.

    Finding Web-Based Anxiety Interventions on the World Wide Web: A Scoping Review

    Abstract:

    Background: One relatively new and increasingly popular approach of increasing access to treatment is Web-based intervention programs. The advantage of Web-based approaches is the accessibility, affordability, and anonymity of potentially evidence-based treatment. Despite much research evidence on the effectiveness of Web-based interventions for anxiety found in the literature, little is known about what is publically available for potential consumers on the Web. Objective: Our aim was to explore what a consumer searching the Web for Web-based intervention options for anxiety-related issues might find. The objectives were to identify currently publically available Web-based intervention programs for anxiety and to synthesize and review these in terms of (1) website characteristics such as credibility and accessibility; (2) intervention program characteristics such as intervention focus, design, and presentation modes; (3) therapeutic elements employed; and (4) published evidence of efficacy. Methods: Web keyword searches were carried out on three major search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo—UK platforms). For each search, the first 25 hyperlinks were screened for eligible programs. Included were programs that were designed for anxiety symptoms, currently publically accessible on the Web, had an online component, a structured treatment plan, and were available in English. Data were extracted for website characteristics, program characteristics, therapeutic characteristics, as well as empirical evidence. Programs were also evaluated using a 16-point rating tool. Results: The search resulted in 34 programs that were eligible for review. A wide variety of programs for anxiety, including specific anxiety disorders, and anxiety in combination with stress, depression, or anger were identified and based predominantly on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. The majority of websites were rated as credible, secure, and free of advertisement. The majority required users to register and/or to pay a program access fee. Half of the programs offered some form of paid therapist or professional support. Programs varied in treatment length and number of modules and employed a variety of presentation modes. Relatively few programs had published research evidence of the intervention’s efficacy. Conclusions: This review represents a snapshot of available Web-based intervention programs for anxiety that could be found by consumers in March 2015. The consumer is confronted with a diversity of programs, which makes it difficult to identify an appropriate program. Limited reports and existence of empirical evidence for efficacy make it even more challenging to identify credible and reliable programs. This highlights the need for consistent guidelines and standards on developing, providing, and evaluating Web-based interventions and platforms with reliable up-to-date information for professionals and consumers about the characteristics, quality, and accessibility of Web-based interventions.

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