Use of a cognitive behavioral therapy-based digital mental health intervention led to significant improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms after 12 weeks, per results of a study published in Journal of Medical Internet Research.
“It has been estimated from nationally representative surveys that the prevalence of depressive symptoms in the United States increased 3-fold during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Aarathi Venkatesan, PhD, vice president, health economics and outcomes research at Vida Health, and colleagues wrote. “Digital mental health interventions are potentially scalable and effective treatment solutions for mental health.”
Venkatesan and fellow researchers sought to examine the effectiveness of an app-based CBT program to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, which include those with comorbidities including obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The single-arm retrospective study included 1,512 participants aged 18 years or older, recruited between September 2019 and January 2021, who were diagnosed with at least moderate depression and had access to a smartphone or tablet. The program included structured lessons as well as exercises and practices. Participants also had one-on-one weekly video counseling sessions with a licensed therapist for 12 weeks, with monthly sessions as follow up.
Assessments were undertaken within the app at baseline, week 6 and week 12, and then every three months for up to 1 year. Levels of depression and anxiety were measured through the 8-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-8) and the 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale.
The treatment cohort consisted of 831 (54.96%) participants who completed a follow-up assessment. Linear mixed-effects modeling was employed to examine changes in depression and anxiety over time, and body weight changes from baseline were assessed primarily with digitally connected scales.
Results showed that 74.5% (n=619) in the treatment cohort showed a clinically significant reduction in depressive symptom severity after 12 weeks, where follow-up PHQ-8 scores had shifted downward by at least one diagnostic category. In total, 67.5% (n=561) of participants showed a reliable improvement in PHQ-8 scores as measured by the reliable change index.
Data also revealed that greater program usage was correlated with greater likelihood of reliable improvement in depressive symptoms (odds ratio, 1.3; 95% CI 1.1-1.5). Exploratory analysis of body weight changes with a multilevel, mixed-effect model suggested that reliable improvement in depressive symptoms at follow-up was associated with significantly greater weight loss at 9 months (beta = –1.11).
“Over the past several years we’ve made tremendous progress in how we treat — and how society views — mental health ailments,” Patrick Carroll, MD, chief medical officer for Vida Health, said in a release which accompanied the study. “For those suffering from anxiety and depression, virtual mental health care offers immediate access to high-quality care, often at a more affordable price than brick-and-mortar solutions.”