Queen's University Belfast and AWARE, the national depression charity for Northern Ireland, announce a new online support service for adults with depression to mark World Health Day (Friday 7 April).
Research has shown that those experiencing depression may feel embarrassed about seeking help from health professionals and ultimately decide not to ask for support at all.
This study aims to give those people an alternative option to face-to-face support by developing a peer-led online support service using video conferencing technology, such as Google Hangouts, which users can access via their home computer, laptop or mobile phone.
Dr Paul Best, from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen's, who is leading the study, said: "We are aiming to give those people in need of help an alternative option to face-to-face support, which they can access from home. In previous studies, this technology has shown to be beneficial in treating a number of mental health problems and can be more cost effective for charities to run."
Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide according to WHO (World Health Organisation), impacting 1 in 4 people in Northern Ireland. It is also a significant risk factor for self-harming behaviours and suicide.
Availability of support and accessible opportunities for people to talk about their depression is crucial. AWARE have been delivering peer led face-to-face support groups since 1996. These groups provide a vital opportunity for adults with depression to share their experiences and learn from peers in a safe and understanding environment, however face-to-face groups may, for a variety of personal and practical reasons, may not be a suitable option for all individuals.
Tom McEneaney, Head of Business Development at AWARE, said: "We are delighted to be working with Queen's University on this study. This service will mean we can provide alternative support for people who are not comfortable with face-to-face, so they can get the help they need. This service will make a difference to people living with depression across Northern Ireland, who are perhaps too afraid to ask for help."
Christine Roberts, AWARE support group user, commented: "I used to walk past AWARE every day for two years before I finally plucked up the courage to walk through the doors. I was so nervous going to the group for the first time, I had no intentions of speaking but when I did, I felt such a relief.
"The support groups has been particularly beneficial to me because I am able to share my own experience with other people who understand and know how I am feeling. My first support group meeting signalled the beginning of my recovery from depression.
"I have been attending the group for four years and I still have good days and bad days, but I continue to attend the group every week as it really is my lifeline. I think the online support groups are fantastic and would be very beneficial to people that aren't able to attend the face-to-face groups. I know personally how worthwhile the support from AWARE has been for me, so I would urge other people that are suffering from depression to make that first step and sign up to the online support group."
The 12 month study on the feasibility and acceptability of group based video conferencing for adults with depression is being funded by the Health and Social Care Research and Development office (HSC R&D).
The new online support service will start recruiting for participants to use the service in early summer 2017.