Worldwide help: Free psychological interventions could
reach millions worldwide
When it comes to online public health interventions, why
think small? Researchers at the Institute for International
Internet Interventions for Health (i4Health) at Palo Alto
University, founded by psychologist Ricardo F. Muñoz, PhD,
are testing a growing set of online interventions aimed at
improving mental and behavioral health for an unlimited
number of people.
Several studies have shown that people see digital
interventions as an acceptable alternative or complement to
traditional therapy. A 2014 review in the Journal of Medical
Internet Research, for example, suggested that people age 14 to
25 are more likely to look for online interventions for mental
illnesses than to seek professional help.
As a result, developers are thinking big, including i4Health.
At the University of California, San Francisco, where he is
professor emeritus, Muñoz and colleagues tested an antismoking Web-based program in Spanish and English that
allowed users to choose any or all of nine program components
Among them were the Guía para Dejar de Fumar — a National
Cancer Institute-funded smoking cessation guide developed by
Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable — a checklist to help smokers get ready
to quit, a guide for using pharmacological aids such as nicotine
patches and an opportunity to sign up for email messages
keyed to their quit dates.
The program also included an online course that teaches
smokers with depression — who are more likely to relapse
— about how quitting may affect their thoughts, mood and
activities, and a “virtual group” in the form of a bulletin board,
which allowed participants to provide information and support
to each other.
For 30 months starting in 2008, the site reached 292,978
people in 168 countries using a Google Ad Grant, at a cost of
less than $1 per visitor. The study was funded by California’s
Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program. Of 15,170 visitors
surveyed, 3,479, or 22. 9 percent, reported quitting at least
once over 12 months (Clinical Psychological Science, 2015). For
comparison, the study reports, quit rates are 14 percent to 22