In Britain, the death panel NHS commonly makes you wait a year to see a shrink, so some people just chat with therapists over instant messenger. Go figure: It actually works. So what about Tumblr, and so forth?

A study of 297 depressed people found that those who had "online therapy" were twice as likely to eventually report their depression had ended as those who just went to see a general practitioner, who in Britain typically prescribe antidepressants due to the wait for talking treatment. That's all according to a study summarized in the Guardian and funded by a foundation connected to the private UK insurer Bupa.

The takeaway for depressed, underinsured Americans: Bug your otherwise productive friends on instant messenger! It will probably make you feel better. The etiquette of the medium means an instant response is likely, and that usually feels vaguely affirming. Or at least that's our entirely uncredentialed sense of things. Which got us to speculating wildly about the anti-depressive potential of other internet media:

  • Twitter: It's theoretically easy for your friends to write you back, since the expectations (140 characters or less) are enticingly low. But it can be like shouting into a void; people are here mostly to click on news links and funny videos, not to think about your feelings.
  • Facebook: A slightly warmer and more social place than Twitter, but one that moves at a slower and thus less gratifying pace. You'll have more license to spill out your thoughts, but in a context where people are less likely to respond.
  • Email: By the time you hear back, your mind is on to a completely different set of depressing thoughts.
  • Tumblr: People can totally reblog and respond to you here! Tumblr people are big on replying to things. But they're also big on one-upsmanship and sniping, so make sure your feelings are, uh, sufficiently witty.
  • Phone call: Probably the best option if you're feeling truly down: It's instant, intimate, and with about 10 million times the emotional depth of instant messenger. The only trouble is finding someone with the time to take your call; spilling out your heart to a friend whose clearly rushing from one meeting to another is going to make you miss the internet all over again.

These options are obviously suboptimal, but keep in mind they're just stopgaps until we all get our own personal robot therapists/government spies, in 2030.

UPDATE: The stat about a one-year delay came from this, in the Guardian story: "According to the Mental Health Foundation, it's common for British patients to wait more than a year to get talking treatment, and 78 percent of GPs have prescribed antidepressant drugs through lack of an alternative."

That certainly doesn't mean everyone waits that long, or that some of us wouldn't kill for a system like the NHS here. The story also notes that the NHS has launched a program to train more therapists.

(Emoticon via)