Digital Interventions for Common Mental Disorders in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Erini Karyotaki*, Clara Miguel, Olga M. Panagiotopoulou, Mathias Harrer, Nadine Seward, Marit Sijbrandij, Ricardo Araya, Vikram Patel, Pim Cuijpers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In low-resource settings, e-mental health may substantially increase access to evidence-based interventions for common mental disorders. We conducted a systematic literature search to identify randomised trials examining the effects of digital interventions with or without therapeutic guidance compared to control conditions in individuals with anxiety and/or depression symptoms in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

The main outcome was the reduction in symptoms at the post-test. Secondary outcomes included improvements in quality of life and longer-term effects (≥20 weeks post-randomisation). The effect size Hedges’ g was calculated using the random effects model.

A total of 21 studies (23 comparisons) with 5.296 participants were included. Digital interventions were more effective than controls in reducing symptoms of common mental disorders at the post-test (g = −0.89, 95% confidence interval [CI] −1.26 to −0.52, p < 0.001; NNT = 2.91). These significant effects were confirmed when examining depressive (g = −0.77, 95% CI −1.11; −0.44) and anxiety symptoms separately (g = −1.02, 95% CI −1.53 to −0.52) and across all other sensitivity analyses. Digital interventions also resulted in a small but significant effect in improving quality of life (g = 0.32, 95% CI 0.19 to 0.45) at the post-test. Over the longer term, the effects were smaller but remained significant for all examined outcomes. Heterogeneity was moderate to high in all analyses. Subgroup and meta-regression analyses did not result in significant outcomes in any of the examined variables (e.g., guided vs. unguided interventions).

Digital interventions, with or without guidance, may effectively bridge the gap between treatment supply and demand in LMICs. Nevertheless, more studies are needed to draw firm conclusions regarding the magnitude of the effects of digital interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere68
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Mental Health
Early online date15 Sept 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Sept 2023

Cite this