Minorities, Others With Depression, Asked to Join Support Group Study

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by Patricia Inacio, PhD |

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Adults with multiple sclerosis (MS) and depression or anxiety, especially those of minority groups, are being asked to join a clinical trial assessing the benefits of eSupport Health‘s online support group program, the National MS Society announced in a press release.

The CONNECT study is particularly focused on Black and Hispanic patients who have been historically overlooked in research studies, but all adults are welcome. To be eligible, patients ages 18 and older need to have moderate levels of depression or anxiety, and access to a webcam and a stable internet connection to support sessions conducted via a smartphone, tablet or computer.

The trial, which involves 12 small and weekly group meetings with a licensed therapist, received funding from the National MS Society‘s Fast Forward program. It will be led by Victoria Leavitt, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center who co-founded eSupport Health and serves as its chief scientific officer.

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Those interested in enrolling in the CONNECT study, which is recruiting up to 80 patients, can do so by creating an account here. Questions can be addressed by emailing [email protected].

An MS diagnosis and the ensuing journey can be difficult and isolating, and support groups aim to help patients better cope and adjust. But in-person groups have drawbacks like travel, and face-to-face contact is limited in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a small trial conducted with the support of a National MS Society pilot grant, Leavitt reported that online support groups were able to ease depression, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness in people with MS.

This prompted her to create eSupport Health, a platform that provides private, professionally led support groups for people impacted by MS, including groups for patients and for family members and loved ones. All online video sessions are moderated by a licensed therapist with MS expertise.

“I founded eSupport Health to create ways for people with MS to interact virtually, sharing advice and understanding, which is all backed by rigorously tested science,” Leavitt said in a video. The goal “is to help people with MS to feel better.”

After a screening that will include a mental health check, patients enrolled in CONNECT will participate in 45-minute weekly online sessions over 12 weeks. Each group will have 10 patients, and sessions will be hosted on eSupport Health’s proprietary Zoom-based platform.

Each week’s discussion will focus on a theme related to living with MS. Patients will be asked to “come with a win,” Leavitt said, explaining that this can be a personal achievement, goal, or life event.

The first 10 enrolled patients will start the weekly sessions immediately, while the next 10 enrolled will complete a 12-week waitlist period serving as a control group for comparison. These initial two groups will be followed for about 20 weeks or five months.

The remaining 60 participants — assigned to six additional groups — will also be brought into a 12-week waiting period before starting their weekly sessions. These patients will be followed for about 40 weeks or 10 months.

The trial’s primary goal is to assess the rate of adherence to the weekly sessions and trial completion. Secondary goals aim to determine how well the online support groups improve quality of life and lessen anxiety, depression, healthcare use, and feelings of loneliness.

Participation in the CONNECT trial is free and, as a token of appreciation, each patient enrolled will be given a $25 Amazon gift card, Leavitt said in the video.

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