Online support for people with depression

December 09, 2003

Many people suffering from untreated and undiagnosed depression are turning to Internet communities for help, according to a study published this week in BMC Psychiatry. Scientists believe these virtual communities could be used to offer diagnosis and support to people that are depressed, and offer the possibility of online therapy.

Surveys show that the Internet is increasingly used to obtain health information and advice - in particular about mental health. Internet communities enable users to obtain expert advice and to communicate to one another about particular conditions via chat rooms and message boards. Despite their widespread use, there has been little research into the health status of users of these communities.

Three researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Oxford University, and the University of Toronto asked users of Internet depression communities run by NetDoktor to complete an online questionnaire. By adapting the Major Depression Inventory for online use, the researchers were able to assess whether users from six countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria and the UK) were suffering from major depression. Users were also asked if they were in contact with health services or receiving treatment, and what they felt were the effects of using the virtual community.

Over 2000 people responded to the questionnaire. Major depression was most common amongst respondents from the UK (64%) and Sweden (57%) and least common among respondents in Denmark (40%) or Norway (42%).

49% of users from all countries who met the criteria for major depression were not receiving treatment, and 35% of these people had not consulted a health professional in the previous year.

The authors write: "Our findings suggest that unmet need exists online as it does in primary care. Significant numbers of people were seeking help online without presenting to formal health services and half were not receiving treatment."

36% of repeat community users who had sought professional help in the last year felt that the Internet community had been a significant factor in their decision to do so. 44% of respondents agreed that they felt less isolated as a result of using the community.

"We found that many users felt able to discuss subjects that they were unable to discuss elsewhere and some had revealed their depression for the first time on the community. These findings suggest that Internet communities may be a useful tool in providing support services for stigmatizing conditions that inhibit more traditional modes of information seeking," write the authors.
-end-
This press release is based on the following article:
Cross-sectional survey of users of Internet depression communities
J Powell, N McCarthy and G Eysenbach
BMC Psychiatry 2003, 3:18
To be published 10 December 2003

Upon publication, this article will be freely available online, as per BioMed Central's open access policy at: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/3/18/abstract

Please publish the URL in any news report so that your readers will be able to read the original paper. For further information about the research, contact the first author, Dr John Powell, by email at john.powell@soton.ac.uk or by phone on 44-238-059-5623 or 44-771-498-6270.

Alternatively contact Gemma Bradley by email at press@biomedcentral.com or by phone on 44-207-323-0323 x 2331 BMC Psychiatry (http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcpsychiatr/) is published by BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com), an independent online publishing house committed to providing immediate free access to peer-reviewed biological and medical research. This commitment is based on the view that open access to research is essential to the rapid and efficient communication of science. In addition to open-access original research, BioMed Central also publishes reviews and other subscription-based content.

BioMed Central

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