BOZEMAN — A program delivered entirely online that aims to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms will be offered for free to hundreds of adult Montanans.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is making the program – an internet-based interactive platform known as Thrive – available to many more Montana residents over the age of 18. Previously, up to 1,000 adult Montanans were invited to enroll in the Thrive program for free during the research phase. Now, hundreds of additional free accounts are available for adult Montanans without having to enter as a study participant. The program is administered by Montana State University and its Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery.

"We know that this is a tough time for people's anxiety and depression,” said Karl Rosston, suicide prevention coordinator with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. “Our state has expanded a number of tools that people can access from home, such as telehealth, the Warmline and Thrive by Waypoint Health. In addition, DPHHS has also expanded the capacity of the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. The Montana Crisis Text Line, which can be accessed by texting “MT” to 741741, is available, as well.”

“We’re grateful for this support, and we anticipate it will make a real difference in the lives of many people across the state who might not otherwise have any kind of care or support,” said Mark Schure, assistant professor in the College of Education, Health and Human Development’s Department of Health and Human Department who is researching the effectiveness of the Thrive program for adult Montanans in partnership with the Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery. “Our research is showing that the people who are using the program seem to be having substantial benefits as far as reducing depression and anxiety symptoms compared to those who are not using the program.”

Each person who enrolls in the Thrive program will be able to use it for free for one year, Schure said, but he estimated that most will complete the content in four to eight weeks. Many of those people will use the program for 30 minutes to an hour at a time, he added.

Waypoint Health Innovations, a Seattle-based technology company, developed and owns the Thrive program, which primarily uses video to deliver confidential, evidence-based curriculum, based on cognitive behavior therapy, to anyone with broadband internet access, Schure said, adding that Thrive’s algorithms allow it to tailor to the needs of the person using it. The program’s responses are based on participants’ answers to a series of questions aimed at determining how much they are being impacted by depression and which aspects of the program would benefit them most. The program is further personalized in response to evaluations as participants continue using the program.

Because Waypoint’s Thrive program is delivered via the internet, it can reach individuals in nearly all areas of the state, including rural communities where it may be difficult to access mental health services. Another benefit is that financial costs of internet-based programs like Thrive are considerably less than traditional face-to-face care, Schure said.

Cognitive behavior therapy – a form of psychotherapy that aims to boost happiness by focusing on behaviors and thoughts – has been shown to effectively reduce depression symptoms, which is a risk factor for suicidal thinking and suicidal behaviors, Schure said.

A study published last fall in the Journal of Medical Internet Research shows that Waypoint’s Thrive program was effective in reducing the severity of depression and anxiety symptoms and improving functioning and resilience among a mostly rural community population of U.S. adults.

“We’re hopeful that these results indicate the usefulness of these types of internet-based programs to effectively teach individuals positive skills to manage their depression and anxiety, which could be especially valuable in rural areas where mental health care services can be hard to access,” Schure said in a November news release about the results.

The Thrive for Montana research project has been supported by a $221,000 grant from the state of Montana after the 2017 Legislature passed, and Gov. Steve Bullock signed, a bill to provide $1 million for suicide prevention in Montana. It also later received an additional $90,000 in continuing funds from the state. Schure’s work on Thrive has also been funded by Montana INBRE.

The Thrive for Montana research project is a collaboration between MSU and Waypoint Health Innovations. The MSU-led research project is not affiliated with the nonprofit, Bozeman-based, social service corporation named “Thrive.”

Adult Montanans who are interested in signing up for the program may visit thriveformontana.com/. More information about Thrive by Waypoint Health Innovations is also available at montana.edu/cmhrr/ccbt.html.

- By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service -