Online therapy following conventional depression care can reduce persistent symptoms and prevent depression from returning, a new study has shown.

Even after in-person therapy and treatment with medication, many people continue to struggle with lingering symptoms of depression that affect sleep, energy and anxiety, said clinical psychologist Zindel Segal, Ph.D., who led the investigation.

In the absence of treatment, these patients face a significantly higher risk of becoming fully depressed again, he added.

Mindful Mood Balance therapy is a digital adaptation of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy, a well-established treatment developed by Segal and his colleagues. In each, patients learn adaptive ways to regulate emotions and choose how best to respond to them, explains Segal, from University of Toronto Scarborough.

The online therapy was tested in a randomized clinical trial involving 460 patients in Kaiser Permanente Colorado clinics. In addition to regular treatment, patients participated in eight Mindful Mood Balance sessions delivered online, plus minimal phone or email coaching support.

Results showed that these participants had greater reductions in depression and anxiety, higher rates of remission and greater quality of life when compared to their peers who had conventional therapy alone.

Many people cannot access face-to-face therapy, and the digital program also circumvents barriers of cost, travel or wait times, Segal explained.

“An online version of MBCT, when added with usual care, could be a real game changer because it can be offered to a wider group of patients for little cost,” he concluded.

The study was published in JAMA Psychiatry.