Avatar-based depression interventions show promise

Avatar-based intervention for self-management of depression has shown initial efficacy in a study of young adults ages 18 to 25 who used such software. The findings, published this month in Applied Nursing Research, are promising for depression management.

Nine percent of young adults in the U.S. are afflicted with major depressive disorder (MDD), predisposing them to impairments in psychosocial functioning, which puts them at risk for disability, morbidity, mortality and an overall decreased quality of life. The study cites that symptoms of depression first occur in adolescence and early adulthood, and can turn into chronic and debilitating illness, MDD, and affect young adults for years before they receive treatment.

In one trial, the avatar program--dubbed eSMART-MH--enabled patients to interact with virtual healthcare providers and a virtual health coach, in a virtual environment, practicing communication about their depression systems, receiving specialized feedback. In another trial, the attention-control condition was screen-based education on healthy living (sleep hygiene, physical activity and nutrition tips). 

The trials occurred at baseline, four, eight and 12 weeks, and data was collected just before and four weeks after exposure to the e-SMART MH conditions.

"Participants who received eSMART-MH showed a statistically significant reduction in their depressive symptoms over the three-month study," the authors said.

Participants in the control group showed no change in depressive symptoms over a short period of time; consistent with earlier studies showing these symptoms stay the same or worsen over time without intervention.

Avatar-based education and intervention has also been used to identify preconception risks for certain sects of young women, with an avatar named "Gabby" emulating face-to-face conversational behavior similar to that of a clinician. The use of avatars also was helpful in CPR training for high schoolers, whose concentration levels were high when working with such tools.

To learn more:
- read the study

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