Treating Depression in Rural Areas

Rates of depression tend to be higher in rural areas, yet rural residents may have a harder time accessing mental healthcare due to transportation issues, long wait times for an appointment can take several months, and telephone psychotherapy providers are in short supply.

Therefore, researchers at West Virginia University (WVU) suggest that online cognitive behavior therapy is a practical solution to the problem of treating depression in rural communities.

WVU recently received a $13.3 million award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). The research project sponsored by PCORI will be carried out in collaboration with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of West Virginia, and the Practice-Based Research Network of the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

The research study to include 8,000 depression patients living in West Virginia, will compare three treatment strategies for rural depressed patients, regarding using antidepressants alone, antidepressants combined with unguided cognitive behavior therapy provide online, and using antidepressants in combination with guided online cognitive behavior therapy.

In the future, the data the study generates may inform an algorithm that predicts which patients should try online cognitive behavior therapy. It has been suggested by researcher Robert Bossart, that the online therapy could be a more suitable treatment for depressed patients living in rural areas that have specific psychosocial characteristics. He suggests that for some patients, it could be a useful replacement for in-person therapy.

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