May 22, 2024

New Digital Therapy Shows Promising Results in Reducing Anxiety and Depression in People with Long-Term Health Conditions

A recent study conducted by researchers at King’s College London has revealed that a therapist-guided digital cognitive behavioral therapy program called COMPASS can significantly reduce distress in individuals living with long-term physical health conditions. The findings of the study, which were published in Psychological Medicine, demonstrate that 89% of participants who received the COMPASS program experienced a clinically significant improvement in distress compared to those who did not have access to the program.

In total, 194 patients were recruited through various long-term condition charities in the UK, including Crohn’s & Colitis UK, Kidney Care UK, MS Society,, and Psoriasis Association. Half of the participants were assigned to receive the COMPASS program, while the other half did not. Both groups continued to access their usual charity support throughout the study.

The results showed that the COMPASS program not only led to improvements in anxiety and depression but also enhanced the participants’ ability to perform daily activities, reduced illness-specific distress, and improved overall quality of life. These findings are particularly significant considering that an estimated 15.4 million people in England alone have one or more long-term physical health conditions, with 30% of them also experiencing a co-occurring mental health condition.

Dr. Federica Picariello, one of the researchers involved in the study, explained that current treatments for anxiety and depression in individuals with long-term physical health conditions often involve psychotherapies combined with medication. However, evidence suggests that these treatments are less effective for this population. The COMPASS program offers a more tailored and effective intervention for individuals whose anxiety and depression are primarily driven by their long-term health condition.

COMPASS was developed with the support of the Mind and Body Program at King’s Health Partners. The program integrates mental and physical health needs and specifically addresses the challenges faced by individuals living with a long-term health condition. Through interactive pathways customized to each individual, COMPASS helps individuals manage their symptoms of anxiety and depression while providing strategies to cope with stressors associated with their condition.

Dr. Katrin Hulme, another researcher involved in the study, expressed the significance of these findings. The trial, which spanned several years, involved the development of the COMPASS program, therapist training, user testing, regulatory approval, and implementation in healthcare clinics. The insights provided by patients and clinicians helped create an online program specifically tailored to address the challenges experienced by individuals with long-term health conditions.

Participants in the study could access the 11 interactive digital COMPASS sessions from home over a period of 12 weeks. They also received up to five 30-minute support calls with their therapist. The results showed that those who received COMPASS reported greater improvements in most outcomes compared to those who did not have access to the program.

Simon Brodie, a participant in the study who has multiple sclerosis, shared his experience with the COMPASS program. He expressed how empowered and confident he feels in dealing with the changes and emotions that come with having a long-term health condition. He highly recommends the program to the multiple sclerosis community.

The study authors suggest that a national hub linked to self-referral through charities or the NHS could be an effective delivery pathway for the COMPASS program, rather than setting up individual clinics with limited resources. This approach could alleviate the burden on charities and enable easier access to specialized treatment.

In conclusion, the study highlights the effectiveness and scalability of digital interventions like COMPASS in reducing anxiety and depression in individuals with long-term physical health conditions. By placing the long-term health condition at the center of treatment, these interventions offer a potential solution to the challenges faced in accessing tailored psychological therapies for this population. COMPASS, with its minimal therapist input, has the potential to reduce psychological distress while overcoming traditional barriers to treatment.

1.      Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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