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Finding Web-Based Anxiety Interventions on the World Wide Web: A Scoping Review

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      Abstract

      Background

      One relatively new and increasingly popular approach of increasing access to treatment is Web-based intervention programs. The advantage of Web-based approaches is the accessibility, affordability, and anonymity of potentially evidence-based treatment. Despite much research evidence on the effectiveness of Web-based interventions for anxiety found in the literature, little is known about what is publically available for potential consumers on the Web.

      Objective

      Our aim was to explore what a consumer searching the Web for Web-based intervention options for anxiety-related issues might find. The objectives were to identify currently publically available Web-based intervention programs for anxiety and to synthesize and review these in terms of (1) website characteristics such as credibility and accessibility; (2) intervention program characteristics such as intervention focus, design, and presentation modes; (3) therapeutic elements employed; and (4) published evidence of efficacy.

      Methods

      Web keyword searches were carried out on three major search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo—UK platforms). For each search, the first 25 hyperlinks were screened for eligible programs. Included were programs that were designed for anxiety symptoms, currently publically accessible on the Web, had an online component, a structured treatment plan, and were available in English. Data were extracted for website characteristics, program characteristics, therapeutic characteristics, as well as empirical evidence. Programs were also evaluated using a 16-point rating tool.

      Results

      The search resulted in 34 programs that were eligible for review. A wide variety of programs for anxiety, including specific anxiety disorders, and anxiety in combination with stress, depression, or anger were identified and based predominantly on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. The majority of websites were rated as credible, secure, and free of advertisement. The majority required users to register and/or to pay a program access fee. Half of the programs offered some form of paid therapist or professional support. Programs varied in treatment length and number of modules and employed a variety of presentation modes. Relatively few programs had published research evidence of the intervention’s efficacy.

      Conclusions

      This review represents a snapshot of available Web-based intervention programs for anxiety that could be found by consumers in March 2015. The consumer is confronted with a diversity of programs, which makes it difficult to identify an appropriate program. Limited reports and existence of empirical evidence for efficacy make it even more challenging to identify credible and reliable programs. This highlights the need for consistent guidelines and standards on developing, providing, and evaluating Web-based interventions and platforms with reliable up-to-date information for professionals and consumers about the characteristics, quality, and accessibility of Web-based interventions.

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      Most cited references 106

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      Little is known about the general population prevalence or severity of DSM-IV mental disorders. To estimate 12-month prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of DSM-IV anxiety, mood, impulse control, and substance disorders in the recently completed US National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Nationally representative face-to-face household survey conducted between February 2001 and April 2003 using a fully structured diagnostic interview, the World Health Organization World Mental Health Survey Initiative version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Nine thousand two hundred eighty-two English-speaking respondents 18 years and older. Twelve-month DSM-IV disorders. Twelve-month prevalence estimates were anxiety, 18.1%; mood, 9.5%; impulse control, 8.9%; substance, 3.8%; and any disorder, 26.2%. Of 12-month cases, 22.3% were classified as serious; 37.3%, moderate; and 40.4%, mild. Fifty-five percent carried only a single diagnosis; 22%, 2 diagnoses; and 23%, 3 or more diagnoses. Latent class analysis detected 7 multivariate disorder classes, including 3 highly comorbid classes representing 7% of the population. Although mental disorders are widespread, serious cases are concentrated among a relatively small proportion of cases with high comorbidity.
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        To provide 12-month prevalence and disability burden estimates of a broad range of mental and neurological disorders in the European Union (EU) and to compare these findings to previous estimates. Referring to our previous 2005 review, improved up-to-date data for the enlarged EU on a broader range of disorders than previously covered are needed for basic, clinical and public health research and policy decisions and to inform about the estimated number of persons affected in the EU. Stepwise multi-method approach, consisting of systematic literature reviews, reanalyses of existing data sets, national surveys and expert consultations. Studies and data from all member states of the European Union (EU-27) plus Switzerland, Iceland and Norway were included. Supplementary information about neurological disorders is provided, although methodological constraints prohibited the derivation of overall prevalence estimates for mental and neurological disorders. Disease burden was measured by disability adjusted life years (DALY). Prevalence: It is estimated that each year 38.2% of the EU population suffers from a mental disorder. Adjusted for age and comorbidity, this corresponds to 164.8million persons affected. Compared to 2005 (27.4%) this higher estimate is entirely due to the inclusion of 14 new disorders also covering childhood/adolescence as well as the elderly. The estimated higher number of persons affected (2011: 165m vs. 2005: 82m) is due to coverage of childhood and old age populations, new disorders and of new EU membership states. The most frequent disorders are anxiety disorders (14.0%), insomnia (7.0%), major depression (6.9%), somatoform (6.3%), alcohol and drug dependence (>4%), ADHD (5%) in the young, and dementia (1-30%, depending on age). Except for substance use disorders and mental retardation, there were no substantial cultural or country variations. Although many sources, including national health insurance programs, reveal increases in sick leave, early retirement and treatment rates due to mental disorders, rates in the community have not increased with a few exceptions (i.e. dementia). There were also no consistent indications of improvements with regard to low treatment rates, delayed treatment provision and grossly inadequate treatment. Disability: Disorders of the brain and mental disorders in particular, contribute 26.6% of the total all cause burden, thus a greater proportion as compared to other regions of the world. The rank order of the most disabling diseases differs markedly by gender and age group; overall, the four most disabling single conditions were: depression, dementias, alcohol use disorders and stroke. In every year over a third of the total EU population suffers from mental disorders. The true size of "disorders of the brain" including neurological disorders is even considerably larger. Disorders of the brain are the largest contributor to the all cause morbidity burden as measured by DALY in the EU. No indications for increasing overall rates of mental disorders were found nor of improved care and treatment since 2005; less than one third of all cases receive any treatment, suggesting a considerable level of unmet needs. We conclude that the true size and burden of disorders of the brain in the EU was significantly underestimated in the past. Concerted priority action is needed at all levels, including substantially increased funding for basic, clinical and public health research in order to identify better strategies for improved prevention and treatment for disorders of the brain as the core health challenge of the 21st century. Copyright © 2011. Published by Elsevier B.V.
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          We studied to what extent internet-based cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) programs for symptoms of depression and anxiety are effective. A meta-analysis of 12 randomized controlled trials. The effects of internet-based CBT were compared to control conditions in 13 contrast groups with a total number of 2334 participants. A meta-analysis on treatment contrasts resulted in a moderate to large mean effect size [fixed effects analysis (FEA) d=0.40, mixed effects analysis (MEA) d=0.60] and significant heterogeneity. Therefore, two sets of post hoc subgroup analyses were carried out. Analyses on the type of symptoms revealed that interventions for symptoms of depression had a small mean effect size (FEA d=0.27, MEA d=0.32) and significant heterogeneity. Further analyses showed that one study could be regarded as an outlier. Analyses without this study showed a small mean effect size and moderate, non-significant heterogeneity. Interventions for anxiety had a large mean effect size (FEA and MEA d=0.96) and very low heterogeneity. When examining the second set of subgroups, based on therapist assistance, no significant heterogeneity was found. Interventions with therapist support (n=5) had a large mean effect size, while interventions without therapist support (n=6) had a small mean effect size (FEA d=0.24, MEA d=0.26). In general, effect sizes of internet-based interventions for symptoms of anxiety were larger than effect sizes for depressive symptoms; however, this might be explained by differences in the amount of therapist support.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            1Centre for Maternal and Child Health Research School of Health Sciences City University London LondonUnited Kingdom
            Author notes
            Corresponding Author: Miriam Thiel Ashford miriam.ashford@ 123456city.ac.uk
            Contributors
            , ORCID: http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4045-6435
            Journal
            JMIR Ment Health
            JMIR Ment Health
            JMH
            JMIR Mental Health
            JMIR Publications (Toronto, Canada )
            2368-7959
            Apr-Jun 2016
            01 June 2016
            : 3
            : 2
            27251763
            4936762
            v3i2e14
            10.2196/mental.5349
            (Editor), (Reviewer), (Reviewer), (Reviewer),
            ©Miriam Thiel Ashford, Ellinor K Olander, Susan Ayers. Originally published in JMIR Mental Health (http://mental.jmir.org), 01.06.2016.

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Mental Health, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://mental.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

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