News Release

Digital intervention reduces depressive symptoms in people living with HIV

New study by George Mason University professor and colleagues in China tests WeChat social media app intervention

Peer-Reviewed Publication

George Mason University

Dr. Alicia Hong

image: This is Dr. Alicia Hong. view more 

Credit: George Mason University

Globally more than 36 million people are living with HIV (PLWH), and a third of them have elevated depressive symptoms. Most PLWH live in developing countries with limited access to mental health services due to HIV-related stigma and a shortage of mental health professionals. Widely accessible smart phones offer a promising intervention delivery mode to address this gap.

Dr. Alicia Hong, Professor at George Mason University's College of Health and Human Services and her colleagues in China developed the digital intervention Run4Love on the popular social media app WeChat. They evaluated Run4Love with a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of 300 PLWH with depression in China, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Run4Love was a multimedia digital program adapted from evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Stress Management courses. Participants received stress reduction exercises, cognitive therapy, and exercise guidance on WeChat. Their progress was monitored with timely, tailored feedback. The intervention led to a significant reduction in depressive symptoms (0.6 effect size) in 3-, 6- and 9-month follow-ups and reduced stress, suicidal behaviors, and improved quality of life.

"This is one of the first large RCTs with long-term follow-up to evaluate digital interventions in global health settings." Hong explains, "The success of Run4Love suggests an app-based digital intervention is feasible for many PLWH in resource-limited settings."


This study was funded by China National Science Foundation and China Medica Board (via Rockefeller Foundation (PI: Dr. Yan Guo of Sun Yat-sen University). Other key team members include Dr Yan Guo's group from the Sun Yat-sen University School of Public Health and Dr. Weiping Cai's group from Guangzhou Number Eight People's Hospital.

About George Mason University

George Mason University is Virginia's largest and most diverse public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 37,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. For more information, visit

About the College of Health and Human Services

George Mason University's College of Health and Human Services prepares students to become leaders and shape the public's health through academic excellence, research of consequence and interprofessional practice. The College enrolls 1,917 undergraduate students and 950 graduate students in its nationally recognized offerings, including: 5 undergraduate degrees, 12 graduate degrees, and 11 certificate programs. The College is transitioning to a college public health in the near future. For more information, visit

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