Virtual clinic offers anxiety sufferers assistance

E-therapy found to significantly improve anxiety management in sufferers

A new online psychology clinic has been founded to help people with anxiety disorders better manage their symptoms.

The five self-help e-therapy programs, offered via Swinburne University of Technology’s Anxiety Online, showed significant improvements in anxiety management across 21 of 25 measures, according to the university.

Each program — tailored to people suffering from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic attacks (PD/A), post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD) — consisted of 12 modules using text-based and multimedia materials such as audio, video and animated graphics and online activities.

The study assessed 225 people with at least one mild anxiety symptom over the course of 12 weeks. Participants were required to complete one of the five fully-automated e-therapy programs during this time.

Swinburne researchers found that by the 12-week post-assessment period, participants reported an increased confidence in managing their mental health and decreases in the number of clinical diagnoses.

The researchers also found significant improvements in quality of life for the GAD, OCD, PTSD and SAD programs and significant reductions in distress levels for the GAD, PD/A and PTSD programs.

However, despite noting the “promising high-quality” preliminary findings, the study’s researchers acknowledged that “the results require replication”.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 20 per cent of the Australian population have a diagnosable mental health condition but only a third of these people seek help.

In a statement, beyondblue deputy chief executive, Dr Nicole Highet, said e-therapy may be an effective alternative for people with anxiety and depression who can’t or won’t get professional help.

“We know that more than half of all Australians with depression and anxiety don’t get the help they need for a range of reasons,” Highet said.

“There may be a lack of services in their area, they may not be able to afford the consultation fees or perhaps they’re too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help.”

Anxiety Online will soon become Mental Health Online, as new e-therapy programs for bulimia, depression, drugs and alcohol, hoarding, insomnia and problem gambling are offered.

From mid-2012, Mental Health Online users looking to therapist assistance can choose from email, instant messaging, audio or video-chat, as well as communicating and interacting within 3D virtual reality environments and collaborative working spaces.

Follow Diana Nguyen on Twitter: @diananguyen9

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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