The science behind SPARX

SPARX is a computerised, self-help programme that helps people aged 12-19 with mild to moderate depression. It was tested with 187 young people from around Aotearoa New Zealand and our research showed that it helped those that were feeling down, depressed or angry to feel better over time by teaching them self-help skills. SPARX has been freely available within Aotearoa New Zealand since 2015.

Our results indicate that SPARX continues to help young people feeling down and depressed. SPARX was developed with the help of young people and is based on a type of ‘talking therapy’ called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT for short. You can do CBT with a counsellor or a psychologist but you can also learn CBT skills from SPARX. All you need is a computer or mobile phone with access to the internet.

CBT teaches skills about how to cope with negative thoughts and feelings by helping people to think in a more balanced and helpful way and getting them to do things they enjoy or that give them a sense of achievement. Research has shown that CBT helps with anxiety and depression.

Publications

Merry, S. N., Stasiak, K., Shepherd, M., Frampton, C., Fleming, T., & Lucassen, M. F. G. (2012). The effectiveness of SPARX, a computerised self-help intervention for adolescents seeking help for depression: Randomised controlled non-inferiority trial. BMJ, 344. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e2598


Fleming, T., Dixon, R., Frampton, C., & Merry, S. (2012). A pragmatic randomized controlled trial of computerized CBT (SPARX) for symptoms of depression among adolescents excluded from mainstream education. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 40(5), 529-541. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1352465811000695


Fleming, T. M., Gillham, B., Bavin, L. M., Stasiak, K., Lewycka, S., Moore, J., ... & Merry, S. N. (2019). SPARX-R computerized therapy among adolescents in youth offenders' program: step-wise cohort study. Internet Interventions, 100287. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.invent.2019.100287


Perry, Y., Werner-Seidler, A., Calear, A., Mackinnon, A., King, C., Scott, J., Merry, S., Fleming, T., Stasiak, K., Christensen, H. and Batterham, P.J. (2017). Preventing depression in final year secondary students: School-based randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 19(11), 11 pages. doi:10.2196/jmir.8241


Poppelaars, M., Tak, Y. R., Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A., Engels, R. C., Lobel, A., Merry, S. N., ... & Granic, I. (2016). A randomized controlled trial comparing two cognitive-behavioral programs for adolescent girls with subclinical depression: a school-based program (Op Volle Kracht) and a computerized program (SPARX). Behaviour research and therapy, 80, 33-42. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2016.03.005

Yokomitsu, K., Irie, T., Sekiguchi, M., Shimizu, A., Matsuoka, H., Merry, S. N., & Stasiak, K. (2020). Gamified mobile computerized cognitive behavioral therapy for Japanese university students with depressive symptoms: Protocol for a randomized controlled trial. JMIR Research Protocols, 9(4). doi:10.2196/15164


Perry, Y., Calear, A. L., Mackinnon, A., Batterham, P. J., Licinio, J., King, C., .Thomsen, N., Scott, J., Donker, T., Merry, S., Fleming, T., Stasiak, K., Werner-Seidler, E., & Christensen, H. (2015). Trial for the Prevention of Depression (TriPoD) in final-year secondary students: study protocol for a cluster randomised controlled trial. Trials, 16, 451. doi:10.1186/s13063-015-0929-1

Fleming, T. M., Stasiak, K., Moselen, E., Hermansson-Webb, E., Shepherd, M., Lucassen, M., & Merry, S. N. (2019). Revising computerized therapy for wider appeal among adolescents: youth perspectives on a revised version of SPARX. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10. 0.3389/fpsyt.2019.00802


Lucassen, M., Samra, R., Iacovides, I., Fleming, T., Shepherd, M., Stasiak, K., & Wallace, L. (2018). How LGBT+ Young People Use the Internet in Relation to Their Mental Health and Envisage the Use of e-Therapy: Exploratory Study. JMIR Serious Games, 6(4), e11249. doi:10.2196/11249


Fleming, T., Lucassen, M., Stasiak, K., Shepherd, M., & Merry, S. (2016). The impact and utility of computerised therapy for educationally alienated teenagers: The views of adolescents who participated in an alternative education-based trial. Clinical Psychologist , 20(2), 94-102. https://doi.org/10.1111/cp.12052


Lucassen, M. F., Hatcher, S., Fleming, T. M., Stasiak, K., Shepherd, M. J., & Merry, S. N. (2015). A qualitative study of sexual minority young people's experiences of computerised therapy for depression. Australasian Psychiatry, 23(3), 268-273. https://doi.org/10.1177/1039856215579542


Shepherd, M., Fleming, T., Lucassen, M., Stasiak, K., Lambie, I., & Merry, S. (2015). The design and relevance of a computerized gamified depression therapy program for indigenous Māori adolescents. JMIR Serious Games, 3(1). doi:10.2196/games.3804


Cheek C, Bridgman H, Fleming T, Cummings E, Ellis L, Lucassen MF, Shepherd M, Skinner T. Views of young people in rural Australia on SPARX, a fantasy world developed for New Zealand youth with depression. (2014). JMIR Serious Games. 2(1):e3. doi:10.2196/games.3183


Fleming T, Merry S. (2013) Youth work service providers' attitudes towards computerized CBT for adolescents. Behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy. 41(3):265-79. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1352465812000306


Lucassen, M. F. G., Hatcher, S., Stasiak, K., Fleming, T., Merry, S., & Shepherd, M. (2013). The views of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth regarding computerised self-help for depression: An exploratory study. Advances in Mental Health: Promotion, Prevention and Early Intervention, 12(1), 22-33. https://doi.org/10.5172/jamh.2013.12.1.22


Fleming TM, Dixon RS, Merry SN. ‘It’s mean!’. (2012). The views of young people alienated from mainstream education on depression, help seeking and computerised therapy. Advances in Mental Health. 10(2):195-203. https://doi.org/10.5172/jamh.2011.10.2.195