back to news March 27, 2017

Using the Internet to "Beat the Blues"

Depression is the most common psychiatric disorder among people with cancer. Because the symptoms of depression are masked by the symptoms of disease and treatment, depression often goes underdiagnosed. 

Marlena Ryba, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology, is changing that.

Ryba is looking to address and tackle depression with her effective psychological intervention called “Beating the Blues,” an eight-week depression treatment program for cancer patients that is completed entirely online. Ryba conducts her research in the laboratory of Barbara Andersen, professor of psychology and Distinguished University Professor, at the Ohio State Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

“For a population of people like cancer patients who are already overwhelmed with appointments and the hassle of treatment, it’s a practical solution to have treatment online that they can do at their own convenience,” Ryba says.

Launched in August 2016, Beating the Blues is a clinical trial of weekly, hourlong online treatment lessons to help participants develop better “thinking” (cognitive) and “doing” (behavioral) skills that can help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. Patients are also paired with a coach who ensures that they stay on track with their sessions and move in the right direction with the program.

Ryba says that Beating the Blues is the first study on effective depression treatment in an online format — an aspect that has been essential to the program’s and patients’ success.

“Because this is entirely online, it gives participants access to a treatment that is important for a population that experiences low quality of life and often even worsened health,” Ryba says. “In some studies, there is evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy has even reduced the risk of recurrence of cancer for some people, so getting the treatment available to this population is very important.”

Ryba became passionate about psychological treatment for cancer patients in graduate school at the University of Tennessee, where she was the project coordinator for a randomized control trial that evaluated behavioral activation and problem-solving therapy in breast cancer patients. She also based her dissertation around behavioral activation in breast cancer patients, an experience that pushed her to be a postdoctoral researcher in psycho-oncology.

In September 2015, Ryba received funding from the Postdoctoral Candidate Pelotonia Fellowship Program and began research that would result in the Beating the Blues program. Not only did she launch the  program in less than a year,  but she also raced in Pelotonia ’16, where she met with patients who she was working so hard to help.

Psych postdoc Marlena Ryba is taking treatment for depression online w/ her program, Beating the Blues #ASCDaily

“When I got to participate in Pelotonia and go to the opening ceremony and ride, it was heartwarming to see the actual patients,” Ryba says. “Some of them came up to me and thanked me, so you could see your research making an impact, and you can see the people that benefit from it. Without Pelotonia, you wouldn’t get to see that immediate effect.”

Patient feedback on the program has been greatly positive, with many saying that, “It was the answer for me,” and “It gave me hope.” Ryba anticipates that the trial will continue to receive positive reviews, which could result in Beating the Blues becoming a permanent program.

by Hannah Smith, ASC Communications student