One-session online interventions help reduce teen depression, study shows

A study of more than 2,400 adolescents aged 13 to 16 shows two online interventions in one session designed to help reduce the workload of teenage depression, a tool much needed due to the rise of teenage depression and the loss of some personal mental health services. during the Covid19 pandemic. Led by Jessica Schleider, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, the results of the study are published in Nature Human behavior.

Teenagers who experience symptoms of depression often do not have access to professional help. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, less than half of adolescents with access to depression were thought to help. A recent study suggests that anxiety and depression in children and adolescents doubled in the first year of the pandemic.

For this study, adolescents experiencing increased depressive symptoms participated in one of two online interventions with a single session (SSI), the first teaching “behavioral activation” (the idea that taking positive action can boost your mood) and the second teaching ” attitude to growth ”(the idea that the symptoms of depression and personality traits are variable). They were hired for the survey via social media (Instagram) and came from all 50 US states.

Schleider explains that before the pandemic, there was a need for more affordable ways to treat and support mental health for teenagers with mental health challenges. She and her colleagues wanted to test whether one-off, online and free interventions could significantly reduce depression in struggling teenagers. They created a control, placebo SSI and two skill-based SSIs: a behavioral activation program and a growth thinking program. She and her colleagues tested quarterly results measuring depression, hopelessness, generalized anxiety, Covid-related trauma, and restrictive eating.

We found that both SSIs significantly reduced the symptoms of depression in adolescents and levels of hopelessness compared with the control group three months later. On average, the effects on depression are moderate, with some teenagers SSI helping to reduce their symptoms a lot, for others only a small part. But on a public health scale, because the programs are so easily accessible and free, this type of intervention can help reduce the overall burden of depression in this vulnerable youth population. “

Jessica Schleider, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University

Their overall results, the authors write, confirm the usefulness of free online SSI for adolescents with high symptoms, even in the context of high stress Covid-19.

Schleider says there is no sure cure for depression, and personal therapy with trained professionals leads to complete remission of symptoms in about 50 percent of the time for adolescents.

“Our SSIs are not intended to replace other specific personal counseling treatments,” Schleider said. “They are more designed to be a safety net and an evidence-based support service for many teenagers who may otherwise have limited access to intervention or have not sought care.”

The study is a clinical trial sponsored by the Director’s National Institutes of Health. Schleider and her colleagues will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of SSI for mental health interventions in adolescents. To learn more about this approach and to access the free interventions tested in this study, see this link to the Scalable Mental Health Laboratory.


Reference in the magazine:

Schleider, J.L., et al. (2021) Randomized study of online interventions with one session for adolescent depression during COVID-19. Nature Human behavior.

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