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UCLA researchers to study success of online mental health therapy

UCLA researchers will conduct a two-year study to determine if peer counseling is useful for students with mental health problems such as PTSD and depression. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Nicholas Yu

April 17, 2016 11:35 p.m.

UCLA researchers will study whether peer support increases the effectiveness of online therapy for patients diagnosed with mild depression, stress and anxiety.

The two-year study, conducted by the UCLA Office of Campus and Student Resilience, hopes to identify a more effective way of treating patients with mild depression or anxiety, said Elizabeth Gong-Guy, director of the Office of Campus and Student Resilience.

Gong-Guy said many counseling facilities are overburdened with patients and online therapy can alleviate the long wait times and increase the rate of treating patients. She added she thinks patients will be more receptive to the online therapy if surrounded by resilience peers, or undergraduate and graduate students trained to provide motivational support.

Resilience peers must go through a 10-week program that includes mental health first aid, suicide prevention and Campus Assault Resources and Education training, said Christina Lee, a co-conference director of All of Us, a mental health campaign that aims to promote mental health awareness.

Lee, a second-year psychobiology student, said resilience peers supplement the online therapy by providing motivational support and are not learning how to treat mental illnesses. Lee added that resilience peers do not necessarily replace the role of a mental health counselor.

Researchers will conduct the study under the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge, a campus-wide initiative that aims to cut the economic and health impacts of depression in half by the year 2050.

Gong-Guy said counseling centers are focusing the majority of their resources on those with severe illnesses, which hurts individuals with mild illnesses. If the presence of a support group can further the effectiveness of internet-delivered therapy, all counseling centers using the same therapy should direct resources toward establishing support groups, she added.

“The study is very promising and can prove to be an innovative and efficient way to treat patients, especially as many counseling centers are over-utilized,” Gong-Guy said.

Gong-Guy added the research is part of a movement to personalize mental health treatment, an area that has not been researched as thoroughly.

“Cancer treatment is highly personalized and there exists a level of specificity that allows for earlier, more effective, targeted intervention,” Gong-Guy said. “Unfortunately, we do not have that for mental health. We need to find out what works best and for whom.”

Gong-Guy said the study will begin once the Institutional Review Board approves the study and resilience peers are trained. She added she expects the study to start the next academic year.

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Nicholas Yu | Assistant news editor
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