Short-term effects of a web-based guided self-help intervention for employees with depressive symptoms: Randomized controlled trial

A.S. Geraedts, A.M. Kleiboer, N.M. Wiezer, W. van Mechelen, P. Cuijpers

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Background: Depressive disorders are highly prevalent in the working population and are associated with excessive costs. The evidence for effective worker-directed interventions for employees with depressive symptoms is limited. Treating employees with depressive symptoms before sick leave via the Internet could be beneficial and cost saving. Objective: In this study, we developed and tested the effectiveness of a Web-based guided self-help course for employees with depressive symptoms. We report on the posttreatment effectiveness of the intervention. Methods: This study is a two-arm randomized controlled trial comparing a Web-based guided self-help course to care as usual (CAU). We recruited employees from 6 different companies via the companies' intranet and posters. The main inclusion criterion was elevated depressive symptoms as measured by a score of ≥16 on the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression scale (CES-D). The intervention (Happy@Work) was based on problem-solving treatment and cognitive therapy and consisted of 6 weekly lessons. Participants were asked to submit their weekly assignment via the website after completion. They subsequently received feedback from a coach via the website. Self-report questionnaires on depressive symptoms (CES-D; primary outcome), anxiety measured by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), burnout measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), and work performance measured by the Health and Work Performance Questionnaire (HPQ; secondary outcomes) were completed at baseline and at posttreatment. Results: A total of 231 employees were randomized to either the intervention group (n=116) or CAU (n=115).The posttreatment assessment was completed by 171 (74.0%) participants. Both the intervention and the CAU group showed significant improvements in the primary outcome of depressive symptoms, but no differences between the conditions was found (d=0.16, 95% CI -0.10 to 0.41, P=.29). Significant but small effects in favor of the intervention group were found for anxiety symptoms (d=0.16, 95% CI -0.09 to 0.42, P=.04) and exhaustion (d=0.17, 95% CI -0.09 to 0.43, P=.02). Conclusions: This study showed that a Web-based guided self-help course for employees with depressive symptoms was not more effective in reducing depressive symptoms among employees than CAU. Large improvements in depressive symptoms in the CAU group were unforeseen and potential explanations are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere121
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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