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Subthreshold depression (sD) negatively impacts well-being and psychosocial function and is more prevalent compared with major depressive disorder (MDD). However, as adults with sD are less likely to seek face-to-face intervention, internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (ICBT) may overcome barriers of accessibility to psychotherapy. Although several trials explored the efficacy of ICBT for sD, the results remain inconsistent. This study evaluated whether ICBT is effective in reducing depressive symptoms among Chinese adults with sD.
A randomized controlled trial was performed. The participants were randomly assigned to 5 weeks of ICBT, group-based face-to-face cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or a waiting list (WL). Assessments were conducted at baseline, post-intervention and at a 6-month follow-up. The primary outcome measured depressive symptoms using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). Outcomes were analyzed using a mixed-effects model to assess the effects of ICBT.
ICBT participants reported greater reductions on all the outcomes compared to the WL group at post-intervention. The ICBT group showed larger improvement on the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) at post-intervention (d = 0.12) and at follow-up (d = 0.10), and with CES-D at post-intervention (d = 0.06), compared to the CBT group.
ICBT is effective in reducing depressive symptoms among Chinese adults with sD, and improvements in outcomes were sustained at a 6-month follow-up. Considering the low rates of face-to-face psychotherapy, our findings highlight the considerable potential and implications for the Chinese government to promote the use of ICBT for sD in China.
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