The DepressioNet office is much like any
other, with overfilled cups in the sink, a box of snack food, and partition
walls dividing co-workers. The server blinks away and hums quietly in the IT
room, a silent but vital member of the DepressioNet team. This is the engine
room for DepressioNet – an online comprehensive, independent,
help and 24 hour peer based support resource for people living with
depression, their families and friends. DepressioNet staff are not medical
professionals, they’re people from a wide range of backgrounds that want to help
people with depression. Tucked away behind Richmond Station, little would
anyone know that this office and its dedicated staff have provided twenty four
hour online care to over a million people living with depression since June
2000. Currently DepressioNet is holding a funding drive to obtain more funds to
improve the service and online care.
Topics posted on the message board range
from effects of different medication to personal achievements and all posts are
anonymous. There is a family like quality to the board, some are dropping in for
the first time, some have been here for years.
Leanne Pethick, founder of depressioNet.com.au,
went to see her doctor for symptoms of what she thought was stress. Leanne lived
a full and busy life and was going through a particularly challenging time. The
diagnosis the GP gave was clinical depression.
Research Manager in a large corporation at the time, Leanne was renovating her
home and raising two teenage daughters and the perception of the 'type of
people' who suffer from depression was not one that she could easily identify
“Having reluctantly accepted the diagnosis, I set out to learn as much as I
could about both the illness and available treatments. What I learned during the
following months astounded me. More accurately, I was amazed by my own previous
ignorance, and how widespread these misconceptions of depression were. I began
to talk openly to friends, family and work colleagues about my own experience
with depression and what I had been learning. I found that I met with two groups
of people. Those who had not met depression in their lives before and who were
also relatively ignorant of the illness, and those who had either suffered
depression, or had a close friend or family member who had. I couldn't believe
the number of people I knew who had been struggling with depression without me
having any idea. “
the next 18 months I conducted my own private research into depression, from a
'consumer' rather than a medical perspective. This research focussed on how
Australians approach depression: identification, information, getting help,
treatment and ongoing management.
concept for depressioNet.com.au arose from this research - that the Internet
would fill the enormous gap that exists and provide an ideal resource for people
to obtain information on depression, treatment options, help & support. “
Martha and Keith are two of the people working
behind the scenes of DepressioNet.com. Martha is an online care member and is
also responsible for website development which she does part-time, Keith is the
online care team leader. ‘Online care’ means monitoring the message board and
providing support to the users.
Keith has been with DepressioNet almost since
its inception. He had a friend who had Bipolar Disorder and went looking for
information on the net. He began reading stories on the DepressioNet website and
was so compelled he stayed up from 10pm to 6am reading every single one. At the
end of that stage he realized the problem he had had all his life was in fact
“The clinical explanation of depression made
no sense to me, the penny didn’t drop, it was listening to people’s descriptions
of their feelings, and thoughts, and reflecting on what they said that made me
realize there was a bit of me in every one of them. It had a big ‘wow’ effect. I
always thought I was a bit weird on the inside, I couldn’t quite put my finger
on it, nothing was easy, I had to motivate myself for everything. I had seen the
doctor at 15 about this problem and was told to take vitamins”.
There is a warm feeling in the office that
comes from knowing everyone is here to help others and it permeates the normal
office atmosphere. Up on the walls in the kitchen, there is a rainbow sea of
paper with pictures of staff on them- they all tell a story about having been
touched by depression themselves, or through loved ones. In any other office
depression is almost a taboo, here the stories of depression are a message of
Martha enjoys the culture at DepressioNet too.
“I’ve worked in different private organizations, but here it’s more nurturing,
everyone helps everyone else. You can quickly email or phone a team member for
help, and that culture is the same on the message board, we’re all together in
“Every now and then we get an email that
states ‘my life was in rack and ruin, thank you DepressioNet for helping me get
help and now my life’s great’. When we get people who haven’t received help
before and helping improve their situation puts a smile on my face” says Keith.
An important feature of the service is that
it’s anonymous which makes DepressioNet unique says Keith.
“It’s important because many people out there
have an idea that something is wrong within themselves, but because of fear or
stigma are not asking questions or getting help. Here they can sneak in
anonymously and ask those questions they’re too scared to ask”.
As for the idea of stigma, Keith believes it’s
all within ourselves to tackle that one. “Stigma lies within the person who has
depression, if they’re comfortable to talk about it, it has the domino effect,
other people start talking about it.”
Martha believes many people don’t know how to
identify their illness and may put it down to stress or being in a ‘rut’.
“Especially males” says Martha. They both
agree males are more stubborn in getting help, and stigma affects males more as
depression can be seen to be a ‘sign of weakness’.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed about with
having depression. It’s thought of as differently as having a broken arm, many
people do not realize what is wrong when someone has depression, when someone
has a broken leg you can see their pain. With depression, you can’t often see
the pain, but people are hurting very badly” says Keith.
“Depression by the very nature of the illness
makes you feel like you’re the only one who’s got it and you feel alone. People
come to DepressioNet and realize they’re not alone, there’s a whole lot of
people out there who feel the same”.
DepressioNet can be found at
Please don’t forget to donate to keep DepressioNet alive! Find out how on the