Effectiveness and Feasibility of Internet-Based Interventions for Grief After Bereavement: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

JMIR Ment Health. 2021 Dec 8;8(12):e29661. doi: 10.2196/29661.


BACKGROUND: Although grief and its symptoms constitute a normal reaction to experiences of loss, some of those affected still report elevated levels of distress after an extended period, often termed complicated grief. Beneficial treatment effects of face-to-face therapies, for example, grief counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy against complicated grief, have been reported. Evaluations of internet- and mobile-based interventions targeting symptoms of grief in bereaved individuals with regard to objective quality criteria are currently lacking.

OBJECTIVE: We aim to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis on the effectiveness and feasibility of internet- and mobile-based interventions against symptoms of grief after bereavement.

METHODS: We conducted systematic literature searches of randomized controlled trials or feasibility studies published before January 9, 2020, following PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines, in PubMed, PsycINFO, Web of Science Core Collection, and the Cochrane Library. The quality of evidence was assessed using the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluations system. We further assessed aspects of feasibility and rated quality of interventions using criteria suggested by an expert panel on mental health care (German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics). A random-effects meta-analysis was conducted to assess between-group effect sizes.

RESULTS: In total, 9 trials (N=1349) were included. Of these, 7 studies were analyzed meta-analytically. Significant effects were found for symptoms of grief (g=0.54, 95% CI 0.32-0.77), depression (g=0.44, 95% CI 0.20-0.68), and posttraumatic stress (g=0.82, 95% CI 0.63-1.01). Heterogeneity was moderate for grief and depression (I2=48.75% and 55.19%, respectively) and low for posttraumatic stress symptoms (I2=0%). The overall quality of evidence was graded low (grief and depression) to moderate (posttraumatic stress). User satisfaction with the interventions was high, as was the quality of the interventions assessed using objective quality criteria.

CONCLUSIONS: Internet- or mobile-based interventions might constitute an effective treatment approach against symptoms of grief in bereaved adults. However, the small sample sizes and limited number of studies included in the review warrant further investigation.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews (PROSPERO) CRD42012002100; https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?RecordID=131428.

PMID:34889769 | DOI:10.2196/29661

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