Implementing digital mental health interventions at scale: one-year evaluation of a national digital CBT service in Ireland


Siobhán Harty, Angel Enrique, Selin Akkol-Solakoglu, Adedeji Adegoke, Hannah Farrell, Graham Connon, Fiona Ward, Conor Kennedy, Derek Chambers and Derek Richards

Published: 10 October 2023 on International Journal of Mental Health Systems


Background: In recent years, exponential growth in digital innovations and internet access has provided opportunities to deliver health services at a much greater scale than previously possible. Evidence-based technology enabled interventions can provide cost-effective, accessible, and resource-efficient solutions for addressing mental health issues. This study evaluated the first year of a supported digital cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) service provided by the national health service in Ireland, which has been accessible to individuals who receive a referral from one of five referring groups: General Practitioners, Primary Care Psychology, Counselling Primary Care, Community Mental Health, and Jigsaw (a nationwide youth mental health service).

Methods: A retrospective, observational study examining data from the service between April 2021 to April 2022 was conducted. Descriptive statistics on referrals, account activations, user demographics, program usage, and user satisfaction were extracted, and pre-to-post clinical outcomes for depression measured by the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 and for anxiety measured by the Generalised Anxiety Disorder-7 were analysed using linear mixed effect models.

Results: There were 5,298 referrals and 3,236 (61%) account activations within the year. Most users were female (72.9%) and aged between 18 and 44 years (75.4%). The CBT programs were associated with significant reductions in both depression (β = 3.34, 95% CI [3.03, 3.65], p < 0.001) and anxiety (β = 3.64, 95% CI [3.36, 3.93], p < 0.001), with large effect sizes (Cohen’s d > 0.8). Time spent using the programs was also found to be a predictor of the variability in these clinical outcomes (p < 0.001), and accounting for this resulted in significantly better model fits (p < 0.001). User satisfaction ratings were also very high, exceeding 94%.

Conclusions: Efforts to improve the representation of male and older adult users are warranted. However, overall, the results demonstrate how digital CBT can be provided at scale and lead to symptom reductions with large effect sizes for patients seeking help for depression and anxiety. The findings substantiate the continued use and expansion
of this service in Ireland and the more widespread implementation of similar services in other international public healthcare settings.

Keywords: Digital, Cognitive behavioral therapy, Depression, Anxiety, National Health Service

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