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Researchers are urging people to take up free therapy courses in a bid to help them find a definitive answer to what works best in online treatment for depression. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Exeter study offers free online depression therapy

In January, the most depressing month of the year, researchers are urging people to take up free therapy courses in a bid to help them find a definitive answer to what works best in online treatment for depression.

It has long been known that online cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be effective in treating depression – but scientists do not know which aspects work best. Now researchers at the University of Exeter are using Blue Monday, which has been labelled the most depressing day of the year, to raise awareness of a trial which will provide free online CBT for people with major depression supported by guidance from a trained psychological wellbeing practitioner.

The innovative programme was previously open to people in Devon and Cornwall, and now the study is being extended to those living in Somerset, Bristol, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Dorset.

Professor Ed Watkins, of the University’s Mood Disorders Centre, runs the innovative Improve 2 (Implementing Multifactorial Psychotherapy Research in an Online Virtual Environment) programme, which aims to investigate and improve internet-based psychotherapy for depression. He said: “We know that CBT works in the treatment of depression. The goal of this research is to better understand the effective elements of its use online so that we can build stronger, better and more widely available psychological treatments.

“Clinical services report that referrals for depression shoot up in January and February. We are hoping that people in the region who are struggling will look to join this innovative study and benefit from free support, while helping us lay the groundwork to design and build even better services into the future.”

Nigel Reed, from Sidmouth, Devon, has taken CBT courses at Exeter’s Mood Disorders Centre and found it helped him to manage his depression to avoid a recurrence, by being more aware of early signs and taking steps to stop the condition escalating. He said: “CBT teaches you a level of self-awareness and self-knowledge. It enables you to have a much greater understanding of your own mental wellbeing.”

Mr Reed was part of a group who reviewed the online material, and said online participation had advantages. “You are in control of your own therapy to a much greater extent. For some people it can be difficult to travel, and this can be done at home when you need to. You can do it at your own pace, and you get lots of feedback from the therapist.”

The trial, funded by the Cornwall NHS Foundation Partnership Trust and a South West Peninsula Academic Health Services Network grant, follows an earlier pilot study, which demonstrated an improvement in depression scores after 12 weeks.

When depressed, many people become more negative and self-critical and reduce their levels of rewarding activity. CBT has been shown to reduce depression by helping individuals to put negative thoughts into perspective, as well as building up positive and self-nurturing activities. Online CBT involves the use of video and audio exercises supported by written communications with therapists.

If you are interested in joining the trial, visit

The team is also recruiting for a trial looking to see if food can influence mood. To find out more, click here.

Date: 15 January 2016

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