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Online mindfulness programs can reduce stress in adults

Spijkerman MPJ, Pots WTM, Bohlmeijer ET. Effectiveness of online mindfulness-based interventions in improving mental health: A review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials Clin Psychol Rev. 2016; 45: 102-114.

Review question

Do online (Internet-based) mindfulness-based programs effectively improve mental health of adults?

Background

In recent years, mindfulness has become a target for therapy in common psychological problems such as stress, worry, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness can be defined as the capacity to observe one’s thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations or experiences in an open and accepting manner. Mindfulness-based programs can reduce psychological distress such as anxiety and depression and improve well-being and quality of life in both healthy individuals and those suffering from physical and mental illnesses. With the rapid advancement of information technology, mindfulness-based programs are more consistently being delivered via the Internet. However, no study has reviewed the effectiveness of these programs on mental health.

How the review was done

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 15 randomized controlled trials was conducted. 2360 adults with average age ranging from 18 to 58 years were included in the review. The majority of the studies were moderate quality.

The studies had the following characteristics:

  • Mindfulness-based programs were delivered online via website, smartphone app, or virtual online classroom ranging from 2 to 12 sessions
  • Sessions ranged from 2 to 12 weeks long, and follow-up times ranged from 12 weeks to one year
  • Some participants were healthy, while others had a physical or mental illness
  • Control groups were waitlisted for the mindfulness-based programs, used other types of online platforms or other programs, or received no treatment  
  • Researchers measured participants’ levels of stress, depression, anxiety, well-being or mindfulness.  

 

What the researchers found

Participants in the mindfulness-based programs showed small improvements in depression, anxiety, well-being and mindfulness in the treatment groups than the control groups and a moderate improvement in stress. People who also received guidance from a trained therapist or had more program sessions showed even greater improvements in stress levels. The authors note that there was considerable variability across the small number of included studies so results should be interpreted with caution.

Conclusion

Online-delivered mindfulness-based programs may improve mental health and well-being, most notably stress. However, further studies are needed to confirm the long-term effectiveness of these programs.

 




Glossary

Control group
A group that receives either no treatment or a standard treatment.
Meta-analysis
Advanced statistical methods contrasting and combining results from different studies.
Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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