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Self-help programme ‘reduces mental distress’

An ‘ultra-brief' self-help programme delivered in primary care reduces psychological distress in patients with mild mental health problems, say researchers.

The small pilot study involved 19 patients from general practices in Wellington, New Zealand, with psychological signs and symptoms that did not meet the criteria for a diagnosable disorder – such as minor depression, subclinical anxiety or substance misuse.

They found three 15- to 30-minute coaching sessions significantly improved patients' mental health over five weeks. Mental distress – as measured by the Kessler-10 measure of psychological distress – was reduced from a mean score of 25.3 at baseline to 18.4 post-intervention (individuals scoring 30 or higher are at ‘very high' risk of having a mental disorder).

The intervention is based on cognitive behavioural and problem solving therapies and was designed to be delivered by clinicians without specialist mental health training. In the face-to-face sessions the clinician works through a set of questions to help the patient clarify the problem, identify coping strategies and build motivation.

A survey questionnaire at three months showed that both clinicians and patients were positive about the intervention, although clinicians expressed concern about the length and number of sessions.

Study lead Professor Sunny Collings, director of the Social Psychiatry and Population Mental Health Research Unit at the University of Otago Wellington said: ‘The ultra-brief intervention appears promising for the primary care setting where subthreshold mental health syndromes are common.'


Family Practice 2012; 29: 43-49


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