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Web-Based Intervention Programs for Depression: A Scoping Review and Evaluation

Background: Although depression is known to affect millions of people worldwide, individuals seeking aid from qualified health care professionals are faced with a number of barriers to treatment including a lack of treatment resources, limited number of qualified service providers, stigma associated with diagnosis and treatment, prolonged wait times, cost, and barriers to accessibility such as transportation and clinic locations. The delivery of depression interventions through the Internet may provide a practical solution to addressing some of these barriers. Objective: The purpose of this scoping review was to answer the following questions: (1) What Web-delivered programs are currently available that offer an interactive treatment component for depression?, (2) What are the contents, accessibility, and usability of each identified program?, and (3) What tools, supports, and research evidence are available for each identified program? Methods: Using the popular search engines Google, Yahoo, and Bing (Canadian platforms), two reviewers independently searched for interactive Web-based interventions targeting the treatment of depression. The Beacon website, an information portal for online health applications, was also consulted. For each identified program, accessibility, usability, tools, support, and research evidence were evaluated and programs were categorized as evidence-based versus non-evidence-based if they had been the subject of at least one randomized controlled trial. Programs were scored using a 28-point rating system, and evidence- versus non-evidence-based programs were compared and contrasted. Although this review included all programs meeting exclusion and inclusion criteria found using the described search method, only English language Web-delivered depression programs were awarded an evaluation score. Results: The review identified 32 programs meeting inclusion criteria. There was a great deal of variability among the programs captured in this evaluation. Many of the programs were developed for general adolescent or adult audiences, with few (n=2) focusing on special populations (eg, military personnel, older adults). Cognitive behavioral therapy was the most common therapeutic approach used in the programs described. Program interactive components included mood assessments and supplementary homework sheets such as activity planning and goal setting. Only 12 of the programs had published evidence in support of their efficacy and treatment of depressive symptoms. Conclusions: There are a number of interactive depression interventions available through the Internet. Recommendations for future programs, or the adaptation of existing programs include offering a greater selection of alternative languages, removing registration restrictions, free trial periods for programs requiring user fees, and amending programs to meet the needs of special populations (eg, those with cognitive and/or visual impairments). Furthermore, discussion of specific and relevant topics to the target audience while also enhancing overall user control would contribute to a more accessible intervention tool.