Behavioural activation by mental health nurses for late-life depression in primary care: A randomized controlled trial

Noortje Janssen, Marcus J.H. Huibers, Peter Lucassen, Richard Oude Voshaar, Harm Van Marwijk, Judith Bosmans, Mirjam Pijnappels, Jan Spijker, Gert Jan Hendriks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Depressive symptoms are common in older adults. The effectiveness of pharmacological treatments and the availability of psychological treatments in primary care are limited. A behavioural approach to depression treatment might be beneficial to many older adults but such care is still largely unavailable. Behavioural Activation (BA) protocols are less complicated and more easy to train than other psychological therapies, making them very suitable for delivery by less specialised therapists. The recent introduction of the mental health nurse in primary care centres in the Netherlands has created major opportunities for improving the accessibility of psychological treatments for late-life depression in primary care. BA may thus address the needs of older patients while improving treatment outcome and lowering costs.The primary objective of this study is to compare the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of BA in comparison with treatment as usual (TAU) for late-life depression in Dutch primary care. A secondary goal is to explore several potential mechanisms of change, as well as predictors and moderators of treatment outcome of BA for late-life depression. Methods/design: Cluster-randomised controlled multicentre trial with two parallel groups: a) behavioural activation, and b) treatment as usual, conducted in primary care centres with a follow-up of 52 weeks. The main inclusion criterion is a PHQ-9 score > 9. Patients are excluded from the trial in case of severe mental illness that requires specialized treatment, high suicide risk, drug and/or alcohol abuse, prior psychotherapy, change in dosage or type of prescribed antidepressants in the previous 12 weeks, or moderate to severe cognitive impairment. The intervention consists of 8 weekly 30-min BA sessions delivered by a trained mental health nurse. Discussion: We expect BA to be an effective and cost-effective treatment for late-life depression compared to TAU. BA delivered by mental health nurses could increase the availability and accessibility of non-pharmacological treatments for late-life depression in primary care. Trial registration: This study is retrospectively registered in the Dutch Clinical Trial Register NTR6013on August 25th 2016.

Original languageEnglish
Article number230
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Early online date26 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Behavioural activation
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Late-life depression
  • Older adults
  • Primary care


Dive into the research topics of 'Behavioural activation by mental health nurses for late-life depression in primary care: A randomized controlled trial'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this