Giving patients self-help books on the NHS, backed-up by “support sessions” could be an effective treatment for depression, according to evidence from a Glasgow-based study.
The study, published in the journa lPlos One, featured 281 patients who diagnosed with depression by their GP. Around half of these were also prescribed anti-depressant drugs.
After a year of treatment, patients given the books and support sessions had reduced symptoms of depression compared to those receiving standard GP care.
The research, headed by the University of Glasgow’s Professor Christopher Williams, gave roughly half of participants a self-help book (written by Professor Williams) that tackles various aspects of depression, including lack of assertiveness and problems sleeping. This group also received three 40 minute sessions early in the study from a non-clinically qualified psychology graduate to help them use the guides effectively. Both groups also received standard GP care.
Four months into the study, patients with the self-help books were found to have significantly lower levels of depression that those receiving only standard GP care. After a year, those in the self-help group continued to show more improvement than those in the control group.
Professor Williams, Professor of Psychosocial Psychiatry and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at the University of Glasgow, said: “We found this had a really significant clinical impact and the findings are very encouraging.” He added: “Depression saps people’s motivation and makes it hard to believe change is possible.”
The self-help book used in the study, Overcoming depression and low mood: a five areas approach is based on established principles of Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a form of “talking therapy” used to treat symptoms of depression. A 2012 study, by researchers from University of Bristol and University of Exeter among others, published in The Lancet, found people given CBT in addition to antidepressants were three times as likely to have a reduction in their symptoms over a 12 month period as those treated with antidepressants alone.
CBT works by trying to alter the way patients think, on the basis that negative thoughts lead to unhelpful and potentially self-destructive behaviour which can then, in turn, lead to further negative thoughts. CBT provides sufferers with practical, achievable tasks that address such problem thoughts and behaviour.
Dr Paul Blenkiron, consultant in adult psychiatry at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said the research suggests that self-help books, supported by guided sessions, were “something the NHS should be investing in”.