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In The News

Working at depressioNet
5th August 2006
BY Danielle Cotter

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.  

In mid 1997 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.

A 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 with.

“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. “

“Over 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.

The 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 depression.

“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 hope.

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 this”.

“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 www.depressioNet.com.au. Please don’t forget to donate to keep DepressioNet alive! Find out how on the website.



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