New Online Networking Tool to Help Those Suffering from Anxiety and Depression

by Dr. Trupti Shirole on Apr 3 2015 5:48 AM

New Online Networking Tool to Help Those Suffering from Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are common mental health concerns in our society. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used to treat anxiety and depression. It is a talking therapy that can help one manage problems by changing the way we think and behave. Based on similar lines, a MIT research team has come up with a peer-to-peer networking tool called Panoply. This new tool enables sufferers of anxiety and depression to build online support communities and practice therapeutic techniques.
The study comprised of 166 subjects who had exhibited symptoms of depression. Researchers compared their tool with an established technique known as expressive writing. A user of Panoply logs on and in separate fields, records both a triggering event and his or her response to it. This part of the application was duplicated exactly for the expressive-writing tool used by the control group in the study. With Panoply, members of the network vote on the type of thought pattern represented by the poster’s reaction to the triggering event and suggest ways of reinterpreting it.

Researchers found that the average subject in the control group used the expressive-writing tool 10 times over the three weeks of the study, with each session lasting about three minutes; while the average subject using the new tool logged in 21 times, with each session lasting about nine minutes. This new tool yielded better outcomes across the board, but it had particular advantages in two areas- one was in training subjects to use a therapeutic technique called cognitive reappraisal, and the other was in improving the mood of subjects with more severe symptoms. Cognitive reappraisal involves identifying maladaptive thought patterns and then trying to recast the events that precipitated them in a different light.

Lead researcher Rob Morris said, "We really wanted to see two things. Hypothesis one is could people get clinical benefits from it? And two is will people be engaged and use this regularly? There’s a lot of great work in building web apps and mobile apps to provide psychotherapy without a therapist in the loop, it’s these self-guided programs. The problem is that, once you release them out into the wild, people just don’t use them."

To simulate a large network of users and ensure that Panoply users would receive a reply even if they were posting in the middle of the night, Morris hired online workers through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowd sourcing application to supplement the comments made by study subjects. The workers received a brief training in cognitive reappraisal.

The study is published in Journal of Medical Internet Research.