Self-Help for Depression via E-mail: A Randomised Controlled Trial of Effects on Depression and Self-Help Behaviour.

Research paper by Amy J AJ Morgan, Anthony F AF Jorm, Andrew J AJ Mackinnon

Indexed on: 28 Jun '13Published on: 28 Jun '13Published in: PloS one


Self-help or self-management strategies are commonly used to deal with depression, but not all are thought to be helpful. A previous study found that sub-threshold depression symptoms were improved by an e-mail intervention that encouraged the use of evidence-based self-help strategies.To investigate whether these e-mails were effective for adults with a range of depression symptomatology including major depression.The study was a parallel-group randomised controlled trial. Adult participants with any level of depressive symptoms were recruited over the internet from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States. Participants were randomised to receive a series of e-mails either promoting the use of evidence-based self-help strategies or containing depression information as a control. E-mails were sent automatically twice a week for six weeks. Depression symptoms were assessed with the self-rated Patient Health Questionnaire depression scale (PHQ-9).1736 participants with a wide range of symptom severity were recruited and assigned to active (n = 862) and control (n = 874) groups. However, there was a significant attrition rate, with 66.9% lost to follow-up at post-intervention. Both groups showed large improvements in depression symptoms overall, with no significant difference in improvement at the end of the study (mean difference in improvement 0.35 points, 95% CI: -0.57 to 1.28, d = 0.11, 95% CI: -0.06 to 0.27), although there was a small effect at the study mid-point. Results were similar for the sub-group of participants with major depression. The active group showed small to moderate improvements in self-help behaviour (d = 0.40, 95% CI: 0.23 to 0.56).These results suggest that the e-mails were able to increase participants' use of evidence-based self-help, but that this did not improve depression more than an attention control.NCT01399502.