The latest weapon in the war on mental disorders

With the prevalence of mental disorders at an all-time high in the general population, any measure which promises to alleviate symptoms has to be worthy of attention.

Recently, a woman I know who has spent time in a psychiatric hospital, mentioned, in passing, that she had been greatly helped by a therapist who had followed up her admission with periodic telephone calls.

Which is why this latest piece of research from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at University Medicine Greifswald in Germany on the use of so-called ‘telemedicine’ caught my eye.

The research revolved around testing the concept of following up patients who had been treated in a psychiatric day hospital with periodic telephone calls and personalised text messages. The primary objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of such interventions.

Some 113 patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups – follow-up by telephone only; follow-up by telephone and text and follow-up with the usual aftercare, involving no such intervention. All participants were monitored for six months post-admission and scored for anxiety, depression and somatisation.

The results showed that the greater the extent of ‘telemedical’ intervention, the greater the level of benefit, with the average anxiety score significantly lowered for the ‘phone plus text’ group as compared to controls. A similar trend was seen with depression scores, though the results were not statistically significant.

In addition, 75% of patients with the most severe depression at baseline responded significantly more positively to ‘phone only’ follow-up than to no active intervention.

This led the team to conclude:

“Telemedicine provides a novel option in psychiatric ambulatory care with statistically significant effects on anxiety. A positive tendency was observed for depression, especially in cases with higher symptom load at baseline.”

Of course there is no substitute for face-to-face human contact, but this may be one application of technology (if the humble telephone can still be labelled such) which is justified. Though one might wonder at what happens once the phone goes quiet, these results are nonetheless worthy of reflection and perhaps even further exploration.

Have you experienced therapeutic success with so-called ‘telemedicine’, without even realising you were trail-blazing this new frontier? Or, like the woman to whom I referred, have you experienced personal benefit from the application of such technique? With depression and anxiety running at such a high ebb in the culture, we welcome feedback on all your experiences.

Written by Jacqui Hogan