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      Is Open Access

      Use of a Self-guided Computerized Cognitive Behavioral Tool During COVID-19: Evaluation Study

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          Abstract

          Background

          Internet-based programs can help provide accessible and inexpensive behavioral health care to those in need; however, the evaluation of these interventions has been mostly limited to controlled trials. Data regarding patterns of use and effectiveness of self-referred, open-access online interventions are lacking. We evaluated an online-based treatment designed to address stress, depression, and conflict management, the Dartmouth PATH Program, in a freely available and self-guided format during the COVID-19 pandemic.

          Objective

          The primary aim is to determine users’ levels of stress and depression, and the nature of problems and triggers they reported during the COVID-19 pandemic. A secondary objective is to assess the acceptability and usability of the PATH content and determine whether such a program would be useful as a stand-alone open-access resource. The final objective is understanding the high dropout rates associated with online behavioral programs by contrasting the use pattern and program efficacy of individuals who completed session one and did not return to the program with those who came back to complete more sessions.

          Methods

          Cumulative anonymous data from 562 individuals were analyzed. Stress triggers, stress responses, and reported problems were analyzed using qualitative analysis techniques. Scores on usability and acceptability questionnaires were evaluated using the sign test and Wilcoxon signed rank test. Mixed-effects linear modeling was used to evaluate changes in stress and depression over time.

          Results

          A total of 2484 users registered from April through October 2020, most of whom created an account without initiating a module. A total of 562 individuals started the program and were considered in the data analysis. The most common stress triggers individuals reported involved either conflicts with family or spouses and work or workload. The most common problems addressed in the mood module were worry, anxiousness, or stress and difficulty concentrating or procrastination. The attrition rate was high with 13% (21/156) completing the conflict module, 17% (50/289) completing session one of the mood module, and 14% (16/117) completing session one of the stress module. Usability and acceptability scores for the mood and stress modules were significantly better than average. In those who returned to complete sessions, symptoms of stress showed a significant improvement over time ( P=.03), and there was a significant decrease in depressive symptoms over all time points ( P=.01). Depression severity decreased on average by 20% (SD 35.2%; P=.60) between sessions one and two.

          Conclusions

          Conflicts with others, worry, and difficulty concentrating were some of the most common problems people used the programs to address. Individuals who completed the modules indicated improvements in self-reported stress and depression symptoms. Users also found the modules to be effective and rated the program highly for usability and acceptability. Nevertheless, the attrition rate was very high, as has been found with other freely available online-based interventions.

          Trial Registration

          ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02726061; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02726061

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          Most cited references 44

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          The PHQ-9: validity of a brief depression severity measure.

          While considerable attention has focused on improving the detection of depression, assessment of severity is also important in guiding treatment decisions. Therefore, we examined the validity of a brief, new measure of depression severity. The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) is a self-administered version of the PRIME-MD diagnostic instrument for common mental disorders. The PHQ-9 is the depression module, which scores each of the 9 DSM-IV criteria as "0" (not at all) to "3" (nearly every day). The PHQ-9 was completed by 6,000 patients in 8 primary care clinics and 7 obstetrics-gynecology clinics. Construct validity was assessed using the 20-item Short-Form General Health Survey, self-reported sick days and clinic visits, and symptom-related difficulty. Criterion validity was assessed against an independent structured mental health professional (MHP) interview in a sample of 580 patients. As PHQ-9 depression severity increased, there was a substantial decrease in functional status on all 6 SF-20 subscales. Also, symptom-related difficulty, sick days, and health care utilization increased. Using the MHP reinterview as the criterion standard, a PHQ-9 score > or =10 had a sensitivity of 88% and a specificity of 88% for major depression. PHQ-9 scores of 5, 10, 15, and 20 represented mild, moderate, moderately severe, and severe depression, respectively. Results were similar in the primary care and obstetrics-gynecology samples. In addition to making criteria-based diagnoses of depressive disorders, the PHQ-9 is also a reliable and valid measure of depression severity. These characteristics plus its brevity make the PHQ-9 a useful clinical and research tool.
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            Advantages and limitations of Internet-based interventions for common mental disorders.

            Several Internet interventions have been developed and tested for common mental disorders, and the evidence to date shows that these treatments often result in similar outcomes as in face-to-face psychotherapy and that they are cost-effective. In this paper, we first review the pros and cons of how participants in Internet treatment trials have been recruited. We then comment on the assessment procedures often involved in Internet interventions and conclude that, while online questionnaires yield robust results, diagnoses cannot be determined without any contact with the patient. We then review the role of the therapist and conclude that, although treatments including guidance seem to lead to better outcomes than unguided treatments, this guidance can be mainly practical and supportive rather than explicitly therapeutic in orientation. Then we briefly describe the advantages and disadvantages of treatments for mood and anxiety disorders and comment on ways to handle comorbidity often associated with these disorders. Finally we discuss challenges when disseminating Internet interventions. In conclusion, there is now a large body of evidence suggesting that Internet interventions work. Several research questions remain open, including how Internet interventions can be blended with traditional forms of care. Copyright © 2014 World Psychiatric Association.
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              A global measure of perceived stress.

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                JMIR Form Res
                JMIR Form Res
                JFR
                JMIR Formative Research
                JMIR Publications (Toronto, Canada )
                2561-326X
                May 2021
                31 May 2021
                31 May 2021
                : 5
                : 5
                Affiliations
                [1 ] Space Medicine Innovations Laboratory Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth Lebanon, NH United States
                Author notes
                Corresponding Author: Jay C Buckey Jay.C.Buckey.Jr@ 123456dartmouth.edu
                Article
                v5i5e26989
                10.2196/26989
                8168639
                33973856
                ©Isadora Detweiler Guarino, Devin R Cowan, Abigail M Fellows, Jay C Buckey. Originally published in JMIR Formative Research (https://formative.jmir.org), 31.05.2021.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Formative Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on https://formative.jmir.org, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

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