Understanding problems with sleep, sexual functioning, energy, and appetite among patients who access transdiagnostic internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety and depression

qualitative exploratory study

Michael R. Edmonds, Heather D. Hadjistavropoulos*, Kirsten M. Gullickson, Aleiia J. N. Asmundson, Blake F. Dear, Nickolai Titov

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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    Background: Transdiagnostic internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (T-ICBT) is an effective treatment for anxiety and depression, and nowadays, there is interest in exploring ways to optimize T-ICBT in routine care. T-ICBT programs are designed to address the primary cognitive-affective and behavioral symptoms of anxiety and depression (eg, low mood, worry, anhedonia, and avoidance). Treatment also has the potential to resolve other symptom concerns (eg, sleep disruption, sexual dysfunction, lack of energy, and appetite or weight changes). Having additional information regarding the extent of these concerns and how concerns change over time could prove beneficial for further development of T-ICBT in routine care. Objective: This exploratory formative study aims to better understand sleep, sexual functioning, energy, and appetite concerns among T-ICBT clients seeking treatment for depression and anxiety. A qualitative analytic approach was used to identify themes in the symptom concerns reported by patients in the areas of sleep, sexual functioning, energy, and appetite at the time of enrollment. Patient responses to related items from screening measures for anxiety and depression were also examined pre- A nd posttreatment. Methods: Patients in routine care who applied for a T-ICBT program for depression and anxiety over a 1-year period were included in this study. As part of the application and screening process, participants completed depression and anxiety symptom measures (ie, 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire and 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale). These same measures were administered posttreatment. Subsequently, they were asked if they were experiencing any problems with sleep, sexual activity, energy, or appetite (yes or no). If their response was yes, they were presented with an open-ended comment box that asked them to describe the problems they had experienced in those areas. Results: A total of 462 patients were admitted to T-ICBT during the study period, of which 438 endorsed having some problems with sleep, sexual activity, energy, or appetite. The analysis of open-ended responses indicated that 73.4% (339/462) of patients reported sleep problems (eg, difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep), 69.3% (320/462) of patients reported problems with energy or motivation (eg, tiredness and low motivation), 57.4% (265/462) of patients reported appetite or body weight concerns (eg, changes in appetite and weight loss or gain), and 30.1% (139/462) of patients described concerns with sexual functioning (eg, loss of interest in sex and difficulty with arousal). Item analysis of symptom measures demonstrated that T-ICBT produced improvements in sleep, energy, and appetite in 8 weeks. Sexual dysfunction and weight changes were not represented in the screening measures, so it remains unclear what effect T-ICBT has on these symptoms. Conclusions: Sleep disruption, lack of energy, appetite or weight changes, and sexual dysfunction are common concerns reported by clients enrolled in T-ICBT in routine practice and may deserve greater attention in T-ICBT program development and administration.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere15037
    Pages (from-to)1-10
    Number of pages10
    JournalJMIR Formative Research
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • cognitive behavioral therapy
    • anxiety
    • depression
    • internet-based intervention
    • sleep
    • sexual health
    • motivation
    • appetite

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