Taking a complex approach to depression and anxiety

If you’re making a trifle, you expect to put in lots of different ingredients, but opinion varies about what should go in. Are those vaguely stale-tasting sponge fingers vital for the optimal trifle or does Swiss roll provide a superior foundation? Some consider jelly trifleto be a vital element, while others wouldn’t consider it. Fruit – tinned or fresh, and what sort? Cream or custard? Chocolate shavings (for the aspirational trifle), sugar strands or good old silver balls? The truth is, we don’t know which elements and which combinations work best, though every trifle maker will have their own ideas about that. The process may be standardized but the form of the thing will be adapted. A key question then is did it hit the spot and leave your consumers feeling much better for it?

The same is often true of  ‘complex interventions’ in healthcare, made up of several components. It can be difficult to establish which are the essential ingredients and how they work together. Then the elements may differ but be underpinned by the same behavioural change theory, for example. Collaborative care models are complex interventions that involve a number of different healthcare professionals working with people to help them manage chronic conditions or recover from illness. For people with depression and anxiety, it often involves a medical doctor, a case manager (with training in those conditions) and a mental health specialist such as a psychiatrist.

The Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Group has now published a review seeking to address the uncertainties surrounding the effectiveness of this approach for people with depression and anxiety, providing an up-to-date assessment of the evidence in this rapidly developing area of research, to inform policy and practice. For the purposes of this review, collaborative care interventions had to have four key elements: involvement by a primary care provider (such as a GP) and at least one other health professional, a structured management plan, scheduled follow-ups and mechanisms to facilitate antscommunication between professionals. The review includes 79 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) with 24,308 patients, comparing collaborative care with routine care or other interventions.

What did they find?

  • For adults with depression: significantly greater improvement with collaborative care in the short-term, medium-term and long-term, but not the very long-term (after two years or more)
  • For adults with anxiety: significantly greater improvement with collaborative care in the short-term, medium-term and long-term. There were no comparisons in the very long-term
  • Some evidence that patients receiving collaborative care were more likely to take prescribed medication, were more satisfied with their care and had improved mental health-related quality of life

How good is the evidence?

This is a large body of evidence and the authors judge it to be ‘robust’ overall. They note some problems, for example in the methods of allocating patients to treatment groups, or patients and their doctors knowing which group they were in, leaving them open to bias.

The bottom line?

Collaborative care is associated with significant improvement in depression and anxiety in adults compared with usual care and represents a useful addition to clinical pathways.

The authors comment that their findings have important implications for current clinical guidelines for depression but, despite this evidence for the effectiveness of collaborative care, anticipate ongoing debate on the size of the benefits.


Archer J, Bower P, Gilbody S, Lovell K, Richards D, Gask L, Dickens C, Coventry P. Collaborative care for depression and anxiety problems. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 10. Art. No.: CD006525. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006525.pub2.

Cochrane summary and podcast of this review http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD006525/collaborative-care-for-people-with-depression-and-anxiety

The Mental Elf blog. Collaborative care is effective for adults with depression and anxiety: new Cochrane systematic review.

Taking a complex approach to depression and anxiety by Sarah Chapman

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

1 Comments on this post

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    GP increasingly interested in how to communicate risk and benefit to people I work with

    rick hudson / Reply

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