Guided self-help programs for depression (with associated therapist contact) have been successfully delivered over the Internet. However, previous trials of pure self-help Internet programs for depression (without therapist contact), including an earlier trial conducted by us, have failed to yield positive results. We hypothesized that methods to increase participant usage of the intervention, such as postcard or telephone reminders, might result in significant effects on depression.
This paper presents a second randomized trial of a pure self-help Internet site, ODIN (Overcoming Depression on the InterNet), for adults with self-reported depression. We hypothesized that frequently reminded participants receiving the Internet program would report greater reduction in depression symptoms and greater improvements in mental and physical health functioning than a comparison group with usual treatment and no access to ODIN.
This was a three-arm randomized control trial with a usual treatment control group and two ODIN intervention groups receiving reminders through postcards or brief telephone calls. The setting was a nonprofit health maintenance organization (HMO). We mailed recruitment brochures by US post to two groups: adults (n = 6030) who received depression medication or psychotherapy in the previous 30 days, and an age- and gender-matched group of adults (n = 6021) who did not receive such services. At enrollment and at 5-, 10- and 16-weeks follow-up, participants were reminded by email (and telephone, if nonresponsive) to complete online versions of the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) and the Short Form 12 (SF-12). We also recorded participant HMO health care services utilization in the 12 months following study enrollment.
Out of a recruitment pool of 12051 approached subjects, 255 persons accessed the Internet enrollment site, completed the online consent form, and were randomized to one of the three groups: (1) treatment as usual control group without access to the ODIN website (n = 100), (2) ODIN program group with postcard reminders (n = 75), and (3) ODIN program group with telephone reminders (n = 80). Across all groups, follow-up completion rates were 64% (n = 164) at 5 weeks, 68% (n = 173) at 10 weeks, and 66% (n = 169) at 16 weeks. In an intention-to-treat analysis, intervention participants reported greater reductions in depression compared to the control group (P = .03; effect size = 0.277 standard deviation units). A more pronounced effect was detected among participants who were more severely depressed at baseline (P = .02; effect size = 0.537 standard deviation units). By the end of the study, 20% more intervention participants moved from the disordered to normal range on the CES-D. We found no difference between the two intervention groups with different reminders in outcomes measures or in frequency of log-ons. We also found no significant intervention effects on the SF-12 or health care services.
In contrast to our earlier trial, in which participants were not reminded to use ODIN, in this trial we found a positive effect of the ODIN intervention compared to the control group. Future studies should address limitations of this trial, including relatively low enrollment and follow-up completion rates, and a restricted number of outcome measures. However, the low incremental costs of delivering this Internet program makes it feasible to offer this type of program to large populations with widespread Internet access.