Computer-based approach could reduce suicide risk

Washington: Researchers have developed a simple computer-based approach to treating anxiety that could have major implications for people at risk for suicide. “We have been using computer-delivered interventions for many years now in an effort to more efficiently deliver effective treatments,” said psychology Professor Brad Schmidt, from the Florida State University. “This study gives us evidence that a brief intervention may help to prevent suicide risk,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt developed a treatment by focusing more on fears of losing control of one’s thoughts and sanity. The team established a fully computerised treatment that does not require a therapist or other mental health specialist, only access to a computer. The new intervention, called the Cognitive Anxiety Sensitivity Treatment, or CAST, is a 45-minute treatment that contains videos, interactive features and true-false questions designed to make sure the patient understands the topic.

The programme explains that symptoms such as racing thoughts, the inability to concentrate and others are not dangerous and not an indication that something bad is about to happen. It also provides users with exercises that they can practice to improve responses to stress and anxiety. To test the computer-based treatment, Schmidt and his colleagues recruited 108 subjects who had above-average anxiety sensitivity.

Half were given the CAST programme, while the other half spent 45 minutes going through a computer-based lesson on the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The volunteers were tested for anxiety sensitivity levels before and after the sessions, as well as one month later. The volunteers who got the CAST training saw their anxiety sensitivity scores drop significantly and by much more than the volunteers who learned about healthy living.

More importantly, the decrease in anxiety sensitivity brought about by the computer method was very similar to the decreases seen in many earlier trials done with therapists. The therapist-based trials, however, were very intensive, with much more time spent in the therapist’s office. Schmidt and his colleagues said the new research can have huge implications in treating people who are at risk for suicide.

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