Infectious Disease

Online interventions reduce teenage depression symptoms

January 14, 2022

3 min read

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Data showed that two free, short, online interventions in one session reduced teens’ depressive symptoms and hopelessness and increased their ability to set and work toward goals.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, depression was the leading cause of disability among adolescents worldwide. jessica Schleider, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University in New York, and colleagues wrote. Adolescent risk of depression is likely to have increased following school closures, isolation, disruptions to support mechanisms and the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic. The researchers noted that financial pressures, which were already preventing some teens with depression from seeking treatment before the pandemic, may have made access to services worse.

Reference: Schleider JL, et al. nature of human behavior. 2021; doi: 10.1038/s41562-021-01235-0.

“A generation of youth facing unprecedented psychosocial adversity is therefore poised to fall through the cracks in the mental health system,” they wrote in Nature Human Behaviour. “It is critical to identify effective, scalable strategies to reduce depression in adolescents both during and after COVID-19.”

Schleider and colleagues evaluated the interventions during a randomized clinical trial of more than 2,000 teenagers, mostly girls, ages 13 to 16 recruited via social media from across the US who reported increased symptoms of depression. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three single-session interventions (SSIs) that lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

For the first online intervention, which the researchers dubbed Project ABC, 729 participants engaged in value-based activities that explained how joy and achievement can reduce sadness and low self-esteem; discusses how behavior can shape feelings and thoughts; asked participants to identify areas such as family relationships, friendships, school or hobbies that bring joy and meaning; created a personalized action plan to improve their depressive symptoms; and asked participants to write about the potential benefits of the intervention and how they might overcome barriers to implementing the plan.

For the second online intervention, a self-administered program called Project Personality, 653 participants took classes on the brain and its plasticity; received testimonies from older adolescents on how brain plasticity allows traits to adapt to situations; heard other stories from older youth about how “growth mentality” has helped them persevere during social or emotional ordeal; reviewed studies that explained how personality can change and why; and completed an exercise in which participants used scientific information to write to younger students about “people’s ability to change”.

The remaining online intervention, called Supportive Therapy Single Session Intervention, also included peer storytelling and writing activities; However, it was “designed to control non-specific aspects of conducting a broadly supportive online activity,” the researchers wrote. As such, its 630 participants served as a control cohort.

All participants were asked to complete three questionnaires: one before the intervention, one immediately after the intervention, and another 3 months later. Participants were also given a list of additional mental health resources and informed that they could contact the research team with questions or help them access psychological support beyond the intervention.

“Notably, the study took place approximately 8 months after school closures and social distancing orders were first introduced in the United States, but before the COVID-19 vaccine was publicly available,” Schleider and colleagues wrote. “The study thus took place at a time when pandemic-related conditions were still evolving and unpredictable in many US regions, and some adolescents may have begun to adapt to lifestyle changes and norms.”

The researchers reported that at 3 months, teenagers in Project ABC and Project Personality reported a decrease in depression symptoms and restrictive eating behaviors, and an increased ability to set and work towards goals compared to the control group. These adolescents also reported less feelings of hopelessness immediately after the invention and 3 months later.

“On average, the effects on depression were moderate,” Schleider said in a press release. “For some teenagers, the SSIs helped greatly reduce their symptoms. For others only a small amount. However, because the programs are so accessible and free, this type of intervention could help reduce the overall burden of depression in this vulnerable youth group.”

The study results confirm the use of the SSIs for “adolescents with high symptoms, even in the context of high stress related to COVID-19,” the researchers wrote. However, Schleider also noted in the press release that the interventions “are not intended to replace other specific treatments with personal counseling.”

“They are designed more as a safety net and evidence-based support service for many teenagers who may otherwise have limited access to interventions or may not have sought care,” she said.

references

Schleider JL, et al. nature of human behavior. 2021; doi: 10.1038/s41562-021-01235-0.

Study shows brief online interventions help reduce depression in teens https://www.newswise.com/coronavirus/study-reveals-brief-online-interventions-help-reduce-teen-depression/?article_id=762002. Published December 14, 2021. Accessed December 14, 2021.

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