Last week, I had the honor of attending and presenting at the first international e-Mental Health Summit for 2009, hosted by the venerable Trimbos Instituut (The Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction, similar to the U.S.’s NIMH), the University of Amsterdam, ISRII, and VU University of Amsterdam. This conference, the first international conference of its kind and scope, was research-focused, bringing together dozens upon dozens of researchers from around the world to meet, present, network and collaborate about work people are doing with computers and the Internet in mental health.
I hope to highlight some of this work over the upcoming weeks here in this blog, to make you aware of the hundreds of research projects that are actively conducted to gauge the usefulness and utility of online applications, tutorials, programs and educational resources. (There were over 120 such presentations at this conference, so you can imagine it’s a little overwhelming to talk about them all at once, or to provide anything close to a comprehensive summary.)
In this first entry, I just wanted to comment briefly about the conference itself, and its focus on the research in Mental Health 2.0 applications — research that seems to surpass that done in the Health 2.0 world by far.
Perhaps this isn’t all that surprising when we realize how much more amenable mental health conditions are to educational and direct online interventions. After all, you can’t really cure TB or malaria through a web program. And while you may be able to do a lot of solid prevention work for medical diseases through online services, most of Health 2.0 focuses on three specific areas — chronic disease, patient communities and electronic health records. Very few Health 2.0 applications or websites offer direct interventions.
Not so in the Mental Health 2.0 world.
Not only are there dozens of mental health programs, application and tutorials available for mental health concerns online, they have something most Health 2.0 applications lack — research backing. What this conference clearly demonstrated more than anything else is the robust research base for online interventions. And more often than not we’re not talking about hastily thrown together, rinky-dink studies — there are dozens of randomized controlled trials (RCT) done on these interventions over the past decade.
Whether we’re talking about helping to prevent suicide online or delivering cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) over the Internet, whether it’s online treatment for anxiety and phobias, or the digital treatment of depression, the research is truly astonishing. Not only do the trials demonstrate that online interventions work — they often work just as well as face-to-face interventions for many concerns.
Virtually none of the interventions discussed in the 2-day conference relied on a professional being present to actually do the intervention. Most are self-guided treatment or educational approaches administered via a piece of software or over the Internet. Some are meant to be a part of a larger treatment program that includes a therapist, but most are meant to help reach the vast majority of people who have little interest in psychotherapy or seeing a professional.
The best part about many of these interventions is that because they were funded by more progressive governments than our own, they are available to anyone for free. You can’t compete against free I always say. Stay tuned for the first intervention I’ll highlight later this week…