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Reducing the global treatment gap for mental disorders requires treatments that are economical, effective and culturally appropriate.
To describe a systematic approach to the development of a brief psychological treatment for patients with severe depression delivered by lay counsellors in primary healthcare.
The treatment was developed in three stages using a variety of methods: (a) identifying potential strategies; (b) developing a theoretical framework; and (c) evaluating the acceptability, feasibility and effectiveness of the psychological treatment.
The Healthy Activity Program (HAP) is delivered over 6–8 sessions and consists of behavioral activation as the core psychological framework with added emphasis on strategies such as problem-solving and activation of social networks. Key elements to improve acceptability and feasibility are also included. In an intention-to-treat analysis of a pilot randomised controlled trial (55 participants), the prevalence of depression (Beck Depression Inventory II ⩾19) after 2 months was lower in the HAP than the control arm (adjusted risk ratio = 0.55, 95% CI 0.32–0.94, P = 0.01).
Our systematic approach to the development of psychological treatments could be extended to other mental disorders. HAP is an acceptable and effective brief psychological treatment for severe depression delivered by lay counsellors in primary care.
Depressive and anxiety disorders (common mental disorders) are the most common psychiatric condition encountered in primary healthcare.
To test the effectiveness of an intervention led by lay health counsellors in primary care settings (the MANAS intervention) to improve the outcomes of people with common mental disorders.
Twenty-four primary care facilities (12 public, 12 private) in Goa (India) were randomised to provide either collaborative stepped care or enhanced usual care to adults who screened positive for common mental disorders. Participants were assessed at 2, 6 and 12 months for presence of ICD-10 common mental disorders, the severity of symptoms of depression and anxiety, suicidal behaviour and disability levels. All analyses were intention to treat and carried out separately for private and public facilities and adjusted for the design. The trial has been registered with clinicaltrials.gov (NCT00446407).
A total of 2796 participants were recruited. In public facilities, the intervention was consistently associated with strong beneficial effects over the 12 months on all outcomes. There was a 30% decrease in the prevalence of common mental disorders among those with baseline ICD-10 diagnoses (risk ratio (RR) = 0.70, 95% CI 0.53–0.92); and a similar effect among the subgroup of participants with depression (RR = 0.76, 95% CI 0.59–0.98). Suicide attempts/plans showed a 36% reduction over 12 months (RR = 0.64, 95% CI 0.42–0.98) among baseline ICD-10 cases. Strong effects were observed on days out of work and psychological morbidity, and modest effects on overall disability. In contrast, there was little evidence of impact of the intervention on any outcome among participants attending private facilities.
Trained lay counsellors working within a collaborative-care model can reduce prevalence of common mental disorders, suicidal behaviour, psychological morbidity and disability days among those attending public primary care facilities.
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