Depression is a rapidly emerging public health concern across the globe. The World Health Organization expects depression to become the main cause of premature death and disease-related disability in the near future.

Experts believe that the mood disorder will become more of a burden than coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease or diabetes.

The course, called GET.ON, builds on the success of numerous Web-based health interventions. It is based on established therapy methods involving systematic problem-solving and behavioral activation.

During the course, participants completed a training unit consisting of videos, texts and tasks lasting between 30 and 90 minutes each week, with elements of cognitive-behavioral and problem-solving therapy, supported by an online trainer. Study members were asked to practice what they had learned in their day-to-day lives between units.

Throughout the six weeks they also received support from their own personal coach whom they were able to contact online.

Researchers studied 406 people who were at increased risk of developing depression but were not suffering from the disorder. In their randomized 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.

Investigators explain that 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,” said researcher Dr. David Ebert.

Ebert initiated the online training course and led the study and is the chair of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany. “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,” said Ebert.

The results of the GET.ON study are highly relevant for health policy.

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,” Ebert said.

“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 health care system for the first time. The current study shows that this is indeed a possibility with online training.”

The joint project was carried out by researchers at FAU, Leuphana University of Lüneburg and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam carried out in collaboration with Barmer GEK.

The training course is already being offered by Barmer GEK, making it one of the first preventative measures for depression available throughout Germany.

The results are published in the May 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Source: University of Erlangen-Nuremberg