A specialized computer-based therapy program designed to help teens with depression has proven to be as effective as one-to-one sessions with a mental-health specialist at alleviating symptoms.
A new study, published in the British Medical Journal, determined the effectiveness of the so-called SPARX self-help program by tracking the experiences of 187 adolescents, aged 12 to 17. Researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand found SPARX was as effective as conventional therapy sessions in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety by at least a third.
In addition, they found significantly more adolescents recovered completely in the SPARX group (44 percent) than the group receiving traditional care (26 percent).
About 95 percent of SPARX participants said it would appeal to other teenagers, but those receiving conventional therapy also rated the treatment high.
“(SPARX is) an effective resource for help seeking adolescents with depression at primary healthcare sites,” the researchers concluded. “Use of the program resulted in a clinically significant reduction in depression, anxiety, and hopelessness and an improvement in quality of life."
Depression is common in adolescents, but many are reluctant to seek professional help, they added. They suggested SPARKS is a potential alternative solution that is a cheaper than usual care and potentially more easily accessible to young people.
SPARX therapy is based on an interactive 3D fantasy game where users take on a series of challenges to restore balance in a virtual world dominated by GNATs (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts). It contains seven modules designed to be completed over a four to seven week period. Usual care mostly involved face-to-face counseling by trained clinicians.
The research team conducted their study in 24 primary healthcare sites across New Zealand. One group of adolescents underwent face-to-face treatment as usual and the other took part in SPARX.