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New cheaper therapy could reduce depression referral times

A cheaper therapy option to CBT could reduce referral to treatment waiting times for patients with depression, according to British researchers.

A large study has found that behavioural activation (BA) is as effective at treating depression as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and much more cost-effective.

The therapy option, which helps patients overcome depression by encouraging them to focus on meaningful activities driven by their own personal values, is around 20% cheaper to deliver than CBT because it can be delivered by more junior healthcare staff.

The alternative treatment could save £260 per patient as it costs £975 per participant, compared to £1,235 for CBT.

The study, published in the Lancet, saw treatments given in three mental health trusts around the country (Devon, County Durham and Leeds). Out of a large cohort of 440 patients, around half received CBT and the other half BA, with follow ups at six, 12 and 18 months showing there were no differences between the two groups – both of which showed a 50% reduction in depressive symptoms.

The study concluded: ‘We found that BA, a simpler psychological treatment than CBT, can be delivered by junior mental health workers with less intensive and costly training, with no lesser effect than CBT.

‘Effective psychological therapy for depression can be delivered without the need for costly and highly trained professionals.’

Study leader Professor David Richards, NIHR senior investigator at the University of Exeter medical school, said the finding was ‘the most robust evidence yet that BA is just as effective as CBT, meaning an effective workforce could be trained much more easily and cheaply without any compromise on the high level of quality’.

‘This is an exciting prospect for reducing waiting times and improving access to high-quality depression therapy worldwide, and offers hope for countries who are currently struggling with the impact of depression on the health of their peoples and economies,’ he said.


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