Background: Stress has been identified as one of the major public health issues in this century. New technologies offer opportunities to provide effective psychological interventions on a large scale.
Objective: The aim of this study is to investigate the efficacy of Web- and computer-based stress-management interventions in adults relative to a control group.
Methods: A meta-analysis was performed, including 26 comparisons (n=4226). Cohen d was calculated for the primary outcome level of stress to determine the difference between the intervention and control groups at posttest. Analyses of the effect on depression, anxiety, and stress in the following subgroups were also conducted: risk of bias, theoretical basis, guidance, and length of the intervention. Available follow-up data (1-3 months, 4-6 months) were assessed for the primary outcome stress.
Results: The overall mean effect size for stress at posttest was Cohen d=0.43 (95% CI 0.31-0.54). Significant, small effects were found for depression (Cohen d=0.34, 95% CI 0.21-0.48) and anxiety (Cohen d=0.32, 95% CI 0.17-0.47). Subgroup analyses revealed that guided interventions (Cohen d=0.64, 95% CI 0.50-0.79) were more effective than unguided interventions (Cohen d=0.33, 95% CI 0.20-0.46; P=.002). With regard to the length of the intervention, short interventions (≤4 weeks) showed a small effect size (Cohen d=0.33, 95% CI 0.22-0.44) and medium-long interventions (5-8 weeks) were moderately effective (Cohen d=0.59; 95% CI 0.45-0.74), whereas long interventions (≥9 weeks) produced a nonsignificant effect (Cohen d=0.21, 95% CI -0.05 to 0.47; P=.006). In terms of treatment type, interventions based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and third-wave CBT (TWC) showed small-to-moderate effect sizes (CBT: Cohen d=0.40, 95% CI 0.19-0.61; TWC: Cohen d=0.53, 95% CI 0.35-0.71), and alternative interventions produced a small effect size (Cohen d=0.24, 95% CI 0.12-0.36; P=.03). Early evidence on follow-up data indicates that Web- and computer-based stress-management interventions can sustain their effects in terms of stress reduction in a small-to-moderate range up to 6 months.
Conclusions: These results provide evidence that Web- and computer-based stress-management interventions can be effective and have the potential to reduce stress-related mental health problems on a large scale.
Keywords: internet-based interventions; mental health; meta-analysis; randomized controlled trial; review; stress.
©Elena Heber, David Daniel Ebert, Dirk Lehr, Pim Cuijpers, Matthias Berking, Stephanie Nobis, Heleen Riper. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 17.02.2017.