Clicking your way to mental health

Help for depression sufferers may soon be available on the Internet, thanks to a U of C researcher.

Computerized depression prevention will allow users to access an interactive depression-prevention program by phone or the Internet and is the focus of the research project headed by Dr. Scott Patten, Department of Community Health Science Associate Professor.

"People do feel ashamed about [depression], or they feel self-conscious about learning more about it," said Patten. "People who might be hesitant to seek help in other ways might be interested in exploring this kind of [program]."

Active prevention is not a new concept in psychology, although research had been limited, according to Patten.

"[This] is one of very few studies that have looked at ways of prevention," he said. "I would guess that there are probably one or two hundred papers concerned with treatment for every one that is concerned with prevention."

Users interface with the computer program through a multiple-choice system and follow multiple paths dependent on their responses to questions. Since it is a randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind study, neither volunteers nor researchers know whether the subjects have received genuine depression therapy or the placebo.

"The volunteer would be randomly assigned either to the intervention that will prevent depression, or another program that is similar in appearance," said Patten. "[The placebo] doesn’t contain the specific elements that the existing literature would suggest would be useful for prevention. It just contains general information about depression."

While Patten would not discuss specifics about the computer program, he did say that it included means for people to deal with depression in their daily lives without being exposed to the stigma of depression in the community, and that users of the program would remain anonymous.

The research program, which took a year to develop, is now in its third stage following development of the computer program and pilot studies in 1999. Patten expects to finish data collection from 1,000 participants by August.

"If this is effective, we’d look to implement it as a public health intervention," said Patten.

Those interested in participating in the study can email info@depressionprevention.net, call 219-1556, or visit the website at www.depressionprevention.net.

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