An international team of researchers has shown for the first time that depression can be effectively prevented through online training. Their study, which involved 406 test subjects, was a joint project by researchers at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen
(FAU), Leuphana University of Lüneburg
and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam carried out in collaboration with Barmer GEK. The results have been published in the latest issue of the renowned Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) (doi:10.1001/jama.2016.4326).
Inspired by promising tests of web-based health intervention measures, the researchers aimed to find out whether the risk of developing depression could be reduced by a six-week online training course called GET.ON. GET.ON is based on established therapy methods involving systematic problem solving and behavioural activation. During the course participants completed a training unit consisting of videos, texts and tasks and lasting between 30 and 90 minutes each week, and practised what they had learned in their day-to-day lives between units. Throughout the six weeks they received support from their own personal coach who they were able to contact online.
Effective and flexible prevention
The team studied 406 people who were at increased risk of developing depression but were not suffering from the disorder. In their randomised clinical study half of the test subjects took part in the GET.ON training course while the other half received standard written instructions on preventing depression. The participants were then examined in a diagnostic telephone interview a year later. The results showed that 27 percent of the group who had completed the GET.ON course had developed depression over the course of the year – in comparison to 41 percent of the control group who did not take part in the online training. In terms of the ‘number needed to treat’, this means that for each six people who take part in GET.ON, one person can be prevented from developing depression. This translates to a 39 percent reduction in relative risk.
‘We were able to show with the study that GET.ON can reduce the risk of depression occurring effectively,’ says Dr. David Ebert from the Chair of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at FAU who initiated the online training course and led the study. ‘GET.ON offers people with initial symptoms a highly effective but also flexible and low-cost way of successfully preventing the development of a depressive disorder that would require treatment.’
Highly relevant for health policy
The results of the GET.ON study are highly relevant for health policy. According to the estimates of the Global Burden of Disease Study by the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is expected to become the main cause of premature death and disease-related disability in the near future – becoming more of a burden than coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease or diabetes. A study by the Robert Koch Institute indicates that around 15 percent of women and 8 percent of men will suffer from depression over the course of their lives. ‘Studies show that current methods of treatment are only able to reduce the suffering caused by depression by around a third,’ David Ebert explains. ‘Effective prevention strategies that provide support at an early stage are of equal importance to sufferers, the healthcare system and the economy. For this reason, Germany’s new Prevention Act has now defined the prevention of depression as an important task for the healthcare system for the first time. The current study shows that this is indeed a possibility with online training.’
The training course is already being offered by Barmer GEK, making it one of the first preventative measures for depression available throughout Germany.
Dr. David Ebert
Phone: +49 9131 8567566