Online counselling is as effective as face-to-face therapy in combating the blues, with similar recovery rates, according to the latest findings.
A new programme, dubbed the Sadness Programme, required an average of only 111 minutes of clinician e-mail contact per person over an eight-week period, significantly less than other comparable clinician-based therapies.
"The results will come as a surprise to many people who believed Internet-based programmes wouldn't work in treating depression," said Gavin Andrews, professor from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).
"We knew that the Internet was successful at treating social phobias and other anxiety disorders but these conditions are, in many ways, low-hanging fruit" added Andrews.
"It was assumed that depression would be more difficult because of the lack of motivation usually associated with the illness," he said. "But that simply wasn't the case."
Andrews and colleague Nick Titov randomly assigned 45 people from St. Vincent's Hospital who met the diagnostic criteria for depression to the Sadness Step Programme or to a wait list control group.
Those in the treatment programme completed six online lessons and weekly homework assignments, received weekly e-mail contact from a clinical psychologist and contributed to a moderated online forum with other participants.
They received an average of eight e-mail contacts each from a qualified psychologist.
After completing the programme, more than a third (34 percent) no longer met the criteria to be diagnosed as depressed - a result similar to face-to-face therapy.
A significant majority (82 percent) who completed a post-treatment questionnaire reported being either very satisfied or mostly satisfied with the overall programme.
The results replicate those from a pilot trial and are consistent with findings in Internet-based trials for other mental disorders, said a UNSW release.
The study is slated for publication this week in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.