The UK is poised to be the first country to grant universal access to self-help computer software that has been proven effective in treating mild forms of depression and anxiety. The effort will begin in April 2007, UK’s Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt announced today.
Computerized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CCBT) delivers cognitive behavioral therapy via a computer software program. Providing this therapy as a first-line treatment for people with anxiety and depression heralds a significant shift toward providing new services closer to people at home and in the community.
The UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has approved two computer-based programs for use by the UK National Health Service (NHS) — Fear Fighter for treating people who have phobias or suffer from panic attacks, and Beating the Blues for treating people with mild to moderate depression. Such programs will enable therapy to be provided in a greater number of locations and settings, such as at home or in the library. People who receive these services will also benefit from the support of a mental health professional.
The depression program, Beating the Blues, is designed as an 8-session, self-help treatment. During the 8-session program, people identify specific problems and realistic goals they would like to work toward. They work through cognitive modules which focus on the identification and challenge of automatic thoughts, thinking errors, distractions, core beliefs and attributional styles. Interwoven with these cognitive elements are problem directed behavioural components where patients can work on any two of activity scheduling, problem solving, graded exposure, task breakdown or sleep management according to their specific problems. The final module looks at action planning and relapse prevention. No computer experience is required in order to run the treatment.
Beating the Blues uses interactive modules, animations and voice-overs to motivate and engage the user. A major feature is a series of filmed case studies of fictional patients who model the symptoms of anxiety and depression and help demonstrate the treatment by cognitive behavioral therapy. The program was developed by Ultrasis.
UK’s Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt was reported as saying, “Mental health services have clearly improved substantially, but we want to offer patients even greater choice over how, when and where they are treated. Being able to access the right kind of therapy, instead of just being prescribed medication, is central to this vision for patients.”
“Clinical evidence confirms that counseling and therapy are just as effective as medication in helping to treat most cases of depression,” she continued. “The guidance being published today will give the NHS the information they need to provide these services. In addition to continuing to improve services for people with severe mental health problems, we are working to improve the mental wellbeing of society as a whole, and providing a real, twenty-first century service for people with common mental health needs such as anxiety and depression.”
“Computerized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an important addition to the range of treatment options available for people who suffer from mild depression or anxiety,” said Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the UK National Association for Mental Health (MIND). “It will bring therapy to the doorstep of users making it convenient and easy to access especially for people who live in remote locations. Its immediacy will benefit people who have been waiting months or even years to see a therapist.”
“However, this method of delivery will not suit everyone. It is important that there is a choice of options.”
Alternative treatments to antidepressant medications in the UK is severely limited. For those with mild or moderate depression or anxiety, it is often recommended that psychological therapies should be tried before doctors prescribe medication. But lack of access to therapy means doctors in the UK often have to give antidepressants because there is no other treatment. Current waiting lists for cognitive behavior therapy in the UK can be months.
Sources: Compiled from various news and wire reports