28/01/2016 9:56 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

New Online Treatment Program For Insomnia Helps Prevent Depression

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Young woman sitting on edge of bed, holding head in hand

A world-first study has revealed depression can be prevented by an online treatment program for insomnia sufferers.

Experts say it has a similar effect to anti-depressants.

The new treatment, which uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), is only effective if the individual suffers from both insomnia and depressive symptoms. However, statistics show a strong link between the two conditions. Eighty per cent of people diagnosed with depression experience insomnia, while 40 per cent of insomnia sufferers having depressive symptoms.

Black Dog Institute released the findings of the study on Tuesday, which it conducted in partnership with the Australian National University, the University of Sydney and the University of Virginia.

Five-hundred participants took part in the online program called SHUTi, which uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to retrain the thought patterns preventing people from sleeping.

Another 500 participants took part in a placebo program which provided general health information.

The SHUTi treatment participants experienced not only reduced insomnia, but significantly reduced anxiety and depressive symptoms, which continued to improve for another six months following the treatment.

Almost three quarters of the SHUTi treatment participants reported no depressive symptoms by the end of the treatment, compared to only half of the participants in the placebo group.

"Our data shows that you get an effect size similar to what you would get in face-to-face therapy or internet interventions that are good for depression. And that is very similar for what you would get for antidepressant medication," Director of the Black Dog Institute, Professor Helen Christensen, told The Huffington Post Australia.

We’re extremely proud to publish a world-first study today that shows an online treatment for insomnia can prevent major...

Posted by Black Dog Institute on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Professor Christensen said the treatment program, which costs about $170 to purchase online, will keep more people out of the health system by helping many Australians treat symptoms before getting depression.

“We’re not trying to replace anything that GPs or psychologists do, it’s actually trying to make our health system efficient by keeping out those people who do respond to these sorts of interventions," Professor Christensen said.

“We need to look at ways for people who don’t have that much money [$170] to be able to get this help through having a Medicare number or having some help from their insurer.

“It would be great to see movement on that front and to recognise that these really do have big implications for how we can improve our health system.”

Professor Christensen said the new program will help diagnose and treat more Australians with depression, as the stigma of insomnia is much lower than depression.

Young adults and Australians living in rural communities -- who may not have easily accessible mental health services -- will reap huge benefits from the program, Professor Christensen told HuffPost Australia.

“Adolescence is when people do start to escalate in developing depression.

“Also young people aren’t really able to define their feelings quite so well, so they haven’t really labelled what they’re feeling as depression, but insomnia is much easier to identify, and easier to get a handle on whether there might be a problem. And consequently get in fast to divert the pathway towards depression.”