Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is one of the most common anxiety disorders worldwide. Characterized by uncontrollable worry and difficulties in coping with uncertainty, the prevalence of GAD seems to have increased even further since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. For many who suffer from GAD, the condition causes significant impairment in all aspects of life; however, treatment is often not readily available. Internet-delivered interventions have the potential to increase the number of people who can access treatment and thereby meet growing needs for mental healthcare – but are they effective?
We conducted a meta-analysis of 20 studies of internet-delivered interventions to assess their overall effectiveness in alleviating symptoms of GAD. The results, published in Depression and Anxiety, showed that digitally delivered treatments, are ultimately effective and are a practical mode of treatment for the condition. It also appeared that improvements were maintained after users had completed treatment. Besides improvements in anxiety and worry we also saw improvements in daily functioning, quality of life and depression – an important finding given the close links between anxiety, depression, and functioning, particularly over longer time periods.
Dr Nora Eilert, Counselling Psychologist, lead author and a Digital health Scientist at SilverCloud Health Research speaks about the relevance of the work:
“Studies like this one highlight the immense potential that lies within internet-delivered interventions. They are an effective way of bringing evidence-based care to more people than we will ever be able to reach with traditional modes of treatment only. As we extend the routine roll-out of internet-delivered intervention for conditions like Generalised Anxiety Disorder we can ensure that no help-seeking individuals are left without adequate treatment anymore.”
Dr Derek Richards, Chief Science Officer at SilverCloud Health, said about the study:
“This study further extends our knowledge and understanding of digital mental health. SCH is leading in this area and have specific interventions for GAD. These interventions are in use across health systems, institutions and organisations worldwide.”
Professor Ladislav Timulak, PhD and Director of the Doctorate in Counseling Psychology in Trinity College Dublin, said about the research:
“Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic, debilitating disorder that has a significant impact on wellbeing, and it carries with itself larger economic costs. Establishing internet-based mental health interventions that can reach out to the impacted population is an important step in addressing this personal as well as well as societal challenge.”
While the quest to determine which intervention characteristics optimize treatment outcomes is only in its infancy, our study highlighted the wide range of components and features that make up internet-delivered interventions; among them the different timeframes users have access to treatment for. Here, interestingly, longer timeframes of access to treatment were associated with better outcomes - perhaps indicating that a minimum amount of time is needed for the “active ingredients” of therapy to work.