An online course has proven to help individuals reduce rumination and worry.

A recent study from UNSW has proven that the online course can curb negative thinking, leading experts to hope that releasing the program on a wider scale could be beneficial to the Australian community as a whole.



Promising program   

A trial study into the effectiveness of the online program was conducted by UNSW, in collaboration with the Black Dog Institute and The Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression at St Vincent’s Health Network. 

Participants reported significant improvement to their mental health after undertaking the research, which took place in three lessons over the course of six weeks. 

The online program was designed with the intention of teaching individuals to reduce levels of rumination and overthinking. According to Professor Jill Newby, clinical psychologist at UNSW’s School of Psychology and the Black Dog Institute, this is an issue faced by many Australians. 

“Out of all the research we’ve done on online therapies, this is by far the most popular program we’ve done,” she says.

“We got way more applicants for what we could manage in a very quick time frame. So it’s clear there is a community need for help with rumination and worry.”



A study in stress 

The study involved 137 adults who reported experiencing heightened levels of negative thinking. Each participant was randomly placed in one of three groups: a three-lesson online course guided by a clinician; the same online course without the support from a clinician; the online course undertaken after a waiting period of 18 weeks. 

The results revealed that 80 percent of participants who undertook the program, with or without a clinician, reported lower levels of stress and rumination both immediately after the trial, and at a three-month follow up. 

Unsurprisingly, the group supported by a clinician had the best results. However, over the course of the six-week trial, the clinician spent an average of 48 minutes actively helping participants, suggesting the program is easy to deliver and can be maintained relatively simply. 

“We’ve known for years now that online programs can help improve mental health. But this is one of the first that specifically focuses on rumination and worry. There were a couple of previous studies that were done in the UK to prevent mental illness in young people, but this is the first that focused on all-aged adults and that was used as an intervention program,” Prof. Jill Newby says.




Working against worry  

After the success of initial trials, the course is set to be offered by This Way Up, an online clinic funded by the Australian government. By simply gaining a prescription from a clinician, clients will be able to access the services for free.

An example of a lesson offered in the online program is one which helps participants to identify times when they are overtaken by worry.

“Just becoming aware of it and labelling it as a type of thinking can actually help people manage it,” says Dr Amy Joubert, lead researcher of the study 

“The next thing we give them is a few rules of thumb about when to move from that type of thinking to something else.”

“So if you find yourself ruminating or worrying about things and it has really eaten up a lot of your time, it is likely becoming very distressing. If it’s not leading to an answer or helping you feel better, then it’s unproductive, so we suggest moving on to something else – channel it into a new action.”

For researchers, the next step forward is offering the program to the community and evaluating its effectiveness through feedback and surveys 

“The next step we’d like to take is potentially tailoring the program to specific populations. For example, helping people manage their climate anxiety or worries during pregnancy. We want to look at different types of worries, try to figure out who the program works best for, and how we can deliver it at scale to as many people as possible,” Prof. Jill Newby says.

For people who struggle with rumination and anxiety, the success of initial tests suggests the program could be an effective and useful tool for reducing worry. With so much positive feedback, it shouldn’t be long until the course is available online. 

To discover a program supporting mental health in Aussie fishers, click here.