Background: Cognitive behavior therapy is well recognized as an effective treatment and prevention for depression when delivered face-to-face, via self-help books (bibliotherapy), and through computer administration. The public health impact of cognitive behavior therapy has been limited by cost and the lack of trained practitioners. We have developed a free Internet-based cognitive behavior therapy intervention (MoodGYM, http://moodgym.anu.edu.au) designed to treat and prevent depression in young people, available to all Internet users, and targeted to those who may have no formal contact with professional help services.
Objective: To document site usage, visitor characteristics, and changes in depression and anxiety symptoms among users of MoodGYM, a Web site delivering a cognitive-behavioral-based preventive intervention to the general public.
Methods: All visitors to the MoodGYM site over about 6 months were investigated, including 2909 registrants of whom 1503 had completed at least one online assessment. Outcomes for 71 university students enrolled in an Abnormal Psychology course who visited the site for educational training were included and examined separately. The main outcome measures were (1) site-usage measures including number of sessions, hits and average time on the server, and number of page views; (2) visitor characteristics including age, gender, and initial Goldberg self-report anxiety and depression scores; and (3) symptom change measures based on Goldberg anxiety and depression scores recorded on up to 5 separate occasions.
Results: Over the first almost-6-month period of operation, the server recorded 817284 hits and 17646 separate sessions. Approximately 20% of sessions lasted more than 16 minutes. Registrants who completed at least one assessment reported initial symptoms of depression and anxiety that exceeded those found in population-based surveys and those characterizing a sample of University students. For the Web-based population, both anxiety and depression scores decreased significantly as individuals progressed through the modules. CONCLUSIONS Web sites are a practical and promising means of delivering cognitive behavioral interventions for preventing depression and anxiety to the general public. However, randomized controlled trials are required to establish the effectiveness of these interventions.