Could an online course improve your mental health?

Online course to help with negative thoughts

Do you worry too much? Maybe find yourself staring at the ceiling thinking about things in the past you can’t change and future disasters that might never happen?

Well, you are not alone. In fact, you know you’re not alone, but the good people at UNSW Sydney may have something to help.

An online course designed to curb negative thinking has had strong results in helping people reduce the time they spend ruminating and worrying, a new study from the university has found.

And best of all, it’s going to be free.

It will be hosted on the government website This Way Up and will be free with a prescription from a clinician.

The Managing Rumination and Worry Program includes three lessons over six weeks and was found to have significantly improved the mental health of study participants.

It helps to reduce levels of rumination, or dwelling on past negative experiences, or worry, which is dwelling on bad things that might happen in the future. 

UNSW School of Psychology professor Jill Newby said the research group was inundated with volunteers when the call went out for study participants.

“Out of all the research we’ve done on online therapies, this is by far the most popular program we’ve done,” Prof. Newby says.

“We got way more applicants for what we could manage in a very quick time frame. So it’s clear there is a community need for help with rumination and worry.”

Researchers recruited 137 participants who were experiencing elevated levels of repetitive negative thinking. They were randomly allocated to one of three groups: a clinician-guided, three-lesson online course delivered over six weeks; the same course but without the assistance of a clinician; or a control group who received the online course after an 18-week waiting period.

The researchers found that 80 per cent of the participants who did the online course with or without the assistance of a clinician reported significantly lower levels of repetitive negative thoughts, depression and distress immediately following the course, and at the three-month follow-up. 


Participants were asked to self-report against several recognised questionnaires and scales measuring repetitive thinking, anxiety and depression before and after taking the online course.

The group helped by a clinician showed the best results. Prof. Newby says clinicians spent an average total of 48 minutes across the six weeks helping participants, suggesting such a program can be delivered relatively easily and at scale.

The results in the two groups who did the online course also compared favourably with the control group, which did not show the same rates of improvement.

“We’ve known for years now that online programs can help improve mental health. But this is one of the first that specifically focuses on rumination and worry. There were a couple of previous studies that were done in the UK to prevent mental illness in young people, but this is the first that focused on all-aged adults and that was used as an intervention program,” Prof. Newby says.

The content of the online course was presented in an illustrated comic-style story that follows two fictional characters who learn to better manage rumination and worry. Following each lesson, participants downloaded a lesson summary and action plan they would then practice in the upcoming week.

Consumed by worry

The study’s lead researcher, Dr Amy Joubert, says an example of the sort of lesson the participants learn is to recognise when they’re being consumed by worry.

“Just becoming aware of it and labelling it as a type of thinking can actually help people manage it,” she says.

“The next thing we give them is a few rules of thumb about when to move from that type of thinking to something else.

“So if you find yourself ruminating or worrying about things and it has really eaten up a lot of your time, it is likely becoming very distressing. If it’s not leading to an answer or helping you feel better, then it’s unproductive, so we suggest moving on to something else – channel it into a new action.”

If you would like to be notified when the course will be available online, visit the This Way Up website, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe to their enewsletter. Or like them on Facebook or Instagram.

Do you think you worry too much? Would you try an online course to help? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

Also read: TGA approves psychedelic treatments for mental health

Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

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