Online psychological interventions to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and general distress in those with chronic health conditions: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

V. White, J. Linardon, J. E. Stone, E. Holmes-Truscott, L. Olive, A. Mikocka-Walus, C. Hendrieckx, S. Evans, J. Speight

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BackgroundOver the past 15 years, there has been substantial growth in web-based psychological interventions. We summarize evidence regarding the efficacy of web-based self-directed psychological interventions on depressive, anxiety and distress symptoms in people living with a chronic health condition.MethodWe searched Medline, PsycINFO, CINAHL, EMBASE databases and Cochrane Database from 1990 to 1 May 2019. English language papers of randomized controlled trials (usual care or waitlist control) of web-based psychological interventions with a primary or secondary aim to reduce anxiety, depression or distress in adults with a chronic health condition were eligible. Results were assessed using narrative synthases and random-effects meta-analyses.ResultsIn total 70 eligible studies across 17 health conditions [most commonly: cancer (k = 20), chronic pain (k = 9), arthritis (k = 6) and multiple sclerosis (k = 5), diabetes (k = 4), fibromyalgia (k = 4)] were identified. Interventions were based on CBT principles in 46 (66%) studies and 42 (60%) included a facilitator. When combining all chronic health conditions, web-based interventions were more efficacious than control conditions in reducing symptoms of depression g = 0.30 (95% CI 0.22-0.39), anxiety g = 0.19 (95% CI 0.12-0.27), and distress g = 0.36 (95% CI 0.23-0.49).ConclusionEvidence regarding effectiveness for specific chronic health conditions was inconsistent. While self-guided online psychological interventions may help to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and distress in people with chronic health conditions in general, it is unclear if these interventions are effective for specific health conditions. More high-quality evidence is needed before definite conclusions can be made.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages26
JournalPsychological Medicine
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 17 Jul 2020


  • Anxiety
  • chronic health conditions
  • depression
  • distress
  • e-interventions
  • meta-analysis
  • RCTs
  • systematic review

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