Behind the Screen : -Internet-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to Treat Depressive Symptoms in Persons with Heart Failure

Abstract: IntroductionThe prevalence of depressive symptoms in persons with heart failure is higher than in age- and gender-matched populations not suffering from heart failure. Heart failure in itself is associated with an unpredictable trajectory of symptoms, a poor prognosis, high mortality and morbidity, and low health-related quality of life (HrQoL). With the addition of depressive symptoms to heart failure the negative health effects increase further. Though the negative consequences of depressive symptoms in heart failure are well known, there is a knowledge gap about the course of depressive symptoms in heart failure and about how to effectively manage these symptoms. Pharmacological treatment with serotonin reuptake inhibitors has not been able to demonstrate efficacy in persons with heart failure. In a few studies, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) delivered face-to-face, has demonstrated effects on depressive symptoms in persons with heart failure. However, currently there are barriers in delivering face-to-face CBT as there is a lack of therapists with the required training. As a solution to this, the use of Internet-based CBT (ICBT) has been proposed. ICBT has been shown to be effective in treatment of mild and moderate depression but has not been evaluated in persons with heart failure.AimThe overall aim of this thesis was to describe depressive symptoms over time and to develop and evaluate an ICBT intervention to treat depressive symptoms in persons with heart failure.Design and MethodsThe studies in this thesis employ both quantitative (Studies I, II and III) and qualitative (Studies II and IV) research methods. The sample in Study I (n=611) were recruited in the Netherlands. The participants (n=7) in Study II were recruited via advertisements in Swedish newspapers. Studies III and IV used the same cohort of participants (Study III n=50, Study IV n=13). These participants were recruited via an invitation letter sent to all persons who had made contact with healthcare services in relation to heart failure during the previous year, at the clinics of cardiology or medicine in four hospitals in southeast Sweden.Study I had a quantitative longitudinal design. Data on depressive symptoms was collected at baseline (discharge from hospital) and after 18 months. Data on mortality and hospitalisation was collected at 18 and 36 months after discharge from hospital. Study II employed three differentBehind the Screen2patterns of design, as follows: I) The development and context adaptation of the ICBT program was based on research, literature and clinical experience and performed within a multi-professional team. II) The feasibility of the program from the perspective of limited efficacy and function was investigated with a quantitative pre-post design. III) Participants’ experience of the ICBT program was investigated with a qualitative content analysis. Data on depressive symptoms was collected pre and post intervention. The time used for support and feedback was logged during the intervention, and qualitative interviews were performed with the participants after the end of the intervention. Study III was designed as a randomised controlled trial. A nine-week ICBT program adapted to persons with heart failure and depressive symptoms was tested against an online moderated discussion forum. Data on depressive symptoms, HrQoL and cardiac anxiety was collected at baseline (before the intervention started) and after the end of the intervention (approximately 10 weeks after the start of the intervention). Study IV had a qualitative design to explore and describe participants’ experiences of ICBT. The participants were recruited from within the sample in Study III and all had experience of ICBT. Data collection occurred after the ICBT program ended and was carried out using qualitative interviews by telephone.ResultsThe mean age of the samples used in this thesis varied between 62 and 69 years of age. Concerning the symptom severity of heart failure, most persons reported New York Heart Association (NYHA) class II (40-57%) followed by NYHA class III (36-41%). Ischaemic heart disease was the most common comorbidity (36-43%). The vast majority had pharmacological treatment for their heart failure. Six percent of the persons in Study I used pharmacological antidepressants. In Studies II and III, the corresponding numbers were 43% and 18% respectively.Among persons hospitalised due to heart failure symptoms, 38% reported depressive symptoms. After 18 months, 26% reported depressive symptoms. Four different courses of depressive symptoms were identified: 1) Non-depressed 2) Remitted depressive symptoms. 3) Ongoing depressive symptoms. 4) New depressive symptoms. The highest risk for readmission to hospital and mortality was found among persons in the groups with ongoing and new depressive symptoms.A nine-week ICBT program consisting of seven modules including homework assignments on depressive symptoms for persons with heart failure was developed and tested. The RCT study (Study III) showed no significant difference in depressive symptoms between ICBT and a moderated discussion forum. Within-group analysis of depressive symptoms demonstrated a significant decrease of depressive symptoms in the ICBT group but not in the discussion forum group.The participants’ experience of ICBT was described in one theme: ICBT- an effective, but also challenging tool for self-management of health problems. This theme was constructed based on six categories: Something other than usual healthcare; Relevance and recognition; Flexible, understandable and safe; Technical problems; Improvements by live contact; Managing my life better.ConclusionAfter discharge from hospital, depressive symptoms decrease spontaneously among a large proportion of persons with heart failure, though depressive symptoms are still common in persons with heart failure that are community dwelling. Depressive symptoms in persons with heart failure are associated with increased risk of death and hospitalisation. The highest risks are found among persons with long-term ongoing depressive symptoms and those developing depressive symptoms while not hospitalised.ICBT for depressive symptoms in heart failure is feasible. An intervention with a nine-week guided self-help program with emphasis on behavioural activation and problem-solving skills appears to contribute to a decrease in depressive symptoms and improvement of HrQoL.When ICBT is delivered to persons with heart failure and depressive symptoms the participants requests that the ICBT is contextually adapted to health problems related to both heart failure and depressive symptoms. ICBT is experienced as a useful tool for self-care and something other than usual healthcare. ICBT also requires active participation by the persons receiving the intervention, something that was sometimes experienced as challenging.

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