Fighting depression online

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Researchers at FAU are developing numerous internet- and smartphone-based training programmes that are intended to promote better psychological well-being

Some 15% of women and 8% of men in Germany will suffer from depression at least once in their lifetime. Internet- and smartphone-based training programmes have been designed to help prevent and help people better cope with the condition. For their research into this subject, Dr. David Ebert and Claudia Buntrock from the Chair of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have received awards from the European Federation of Psychologists’ Association and the German Psychological Society (DGPs).

Affected individuals manage their symptoms themselves

The GET.ON project is a collaboration between FAU and Leuphana University of Lüneburg. A range of of mental health concerns are considered in each of the 15 GET.ON programmes which are designed to help participants to improve their psychological resilience and better manage their condition via the internet. Participants are given the support they need to cope with or prevent the psychological and psychosomatic symptoms they are experiencing. The long term objective is to ensure that they will eventually be able to deal with mental health concerns on their own.

The various GET.ON programmes are aimed, for example, at individuals suffering from stress, chronic depression, anxiety, incipient depression or insomnia. Others are designed to help those struggling with panic attacks, low self-esteem or alcohol abuse. The training programmes employ approaches developed in connection with behavioural therapy. For example, positive activities are promoted and participants learn strategies to overcome their anxieties that involve confronting them in a systematic and targeted manner.

In contrast with conventional therapy in a doctor’s practice, online training programmes are not subject to time or geographical constraints, so that users can complete them where and when they see fit. In addition, the training programmes afford participants anonymity, which lowers their inhibition threshold and makes them more receptive to using them in the first place. For his work in this field, David Ebert has been presented with the Comenius Early Career Psychologist Award which is given to the most promising young European psychologist.

Better prevention of depression is possible

Claudia Buntrock investigated one of these programmes – the GET.ON ‘Stimmung’ programme designed to influence mood – to determine whether it could actually reduce the risk of developing depression. The module is aimed at adults with non-manifest depression who are experiencing negative emotions, so, for instance, individuals who feel melancholic or pessimistic, have lost their zest for life, who brood all the time or lack the energy to do anything. The GET.ON ‘Stimmung’ programme consists of six training units, and the participants are expected to work through one or two units per week with online support from e-coaches who provide individualised feedback.

In the study, the research team examined 406 subjects who were compared to a reference group not receiving online training.

Results showed that, in the majority of participants, levels of well-being improved significantly, and that the programme could effectively prevent the development of depression. Claudia Buntrock has been awarded the scholarship prize for young female scientists by the specialist group for Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy of the German Psychological Society (DGPs).

This online training concept is to be extended to other areas. For example, the researchers are now investigating whether the programme could also be used to help patients with cardiovascular disease or cancer who are suffering from depression and chronic pain. They are also looking at possible approaches to preventive care in children whose parents suffer from mental disorders.

Those interested in participating in one of the many online health training programmes of FAU can sign up at Participation is free of charge.

Further information:

Dr. David Ebert
Phone: +49 9131 85 67566

Claudia Buntrock
Phone: +49 9131 85 67568