Twenty per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. This includes Ashley King, a 28-year-old patient of The Scarborough Hospital’s (TSH) Mental Health department.
For Ashley, who has suffered from anxiety and depression for many years, TSH’s Internet-Assisted Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (iCBT) program was a game-changer. It is the first and only program of its kind within a Mental Health Adult Outpatient setting in a Canadian hospital, and uses traditional (face-to-face) CBT modules adapted for email.
The hospital’s iCBT team emails outpatients, like Ashley, one module per week. Ashley completed them on her own time, and then emailed them back to her therapist. Her therapist blocked off time to review her work and provide written feedback.
“It helped me understand why I was experiencing certain symptoms, and taught me strategies about managing my anxiety,” said Ashley. “There’s a weekly activity sheet, which is useful in encouraging me to try things out of my comfort zone.”
The program was initially developed through a partnership between TSH and Queen’s University. In response to patient feedback, the iCBT platform was recently redeveloped to make it more flexible, engaging, and patient-tailored. For example, iCBT2 includes more substantive content, interaction, and videos, as well as aesthetic improvements, and takes only six weeks to complete (instead of the previous eight).
Ashley says that before participating in iCBT therapy, she felt like she was becoming a “hermit”.
“I needed to get back into society. This really helped me.”
While traditional cognitive behavioural therapy is a widely used form of psychotherapy in the treatment of anxiety and depression, for some people it can be difficult to access support, with long wait lists, a shortage of therapists, and limited availability outside of regular business hours.
“This is why we are moving mental health therapy beyond the bricks and mortar of the hospital. iCBT can be an effective solution to these challenges and it allows patients to participate in therapy when and where it is most convenient for them,” said Dr. David Gratzer, Psychiatrist, TSH.
The iCBT2 program at TSH requires a physician referral. Individuals who are suffering from anxiety or depression, and who are interested in iCBT2, are advised to speak with their primary care physician to see if iCBT2 may be an appropriate treatment option.