LENS: A digital approach to reduce anxiety and depression

Anxiety disorders affect 264 million people a year and depression 322 million globally. Anxiety and depression are also among the top ten causes of years lost to disability worldwide. We urgently need more accessible, effective interventions that target key underlying psychological processes.

Learning Effective New Strategies (LENS), developed at King’s College London, is a theory-driven, evidenced-based, accessible, digital therapy that does not require mental health specialist involvement. LENS targets a key process that contributes to anxiety and depression – interpretation bias – the tendency to draw negative conclusions from uncertain/ambiguous information.

Training a different way of thinking 

LENS trains people to interpret uncertain/ambiguous everyday situations in more positive, realistic ways in just 10, 25-minute sessions. These online sessions involve repeated practice in making positive interpretations by listening to short scenarios or stories, generating positive interpretations and then imaging the positive outcomes.

People with lived experience helped us develop the intervention, ensuring scenarios reflect interpretations that occur in their day-to-day lives. 90 per cent of people completed the full intervention and there was positive feedback on the web-platform, suggesting LENS has potential for widescale take up.

LENS reduces symptoms in the longer term, in those suffering from clinical anxiety and/or depression (Figure 1), as well as those at high risk for these disorders. LENS is the first form of interpretation training to lead to better outcomes than control conditions in reducing anxiety and depression; and targeting interpretation bias underlies these superior results.

Figure 1: LENS reduces symptoms in the longer term, in those suffering from clinical anxiety and/or depression.

Adapting LENS to specific groups

Feasibility studies of adaptations of LENS for people with long-term physical health conditions such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease who often experience anxiety, indicate that large scale trials should now be conducted.

LENS is a straight-forward, low-stress intervention and so easy to complete, even in stressful periods when the ability to implement more complex interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy can be difficult. LENS could help people with depression and anxiety recover, and mental health services provide a low-intensity intervention, with wider dissemination via primary care services or mental health support groups.

A new NIHR Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation grant will support adaptations for pregnant women with high levels of worry/rumination, putting them at risk of anxiety, to test LENS as a preventive treatment before and after birth.



Involving Patients in Research | Novel Diagnostics and Therapeutics | National and International Collaboration | Improving Access and Uptake