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Depression Information Resource & Education Centre (DIRECT)

Depression, the most common mental illness, is usually suffered in silence. One in 5 Canadians will experience it at some point. Today and any day of the year, between 6 and 8% of Canadians are going through it. Yet only 1/3 of depression sufferers ever go to a doctor and of those who do many are misdiagnosed or under-treated, according to Hamilton psychiatrist Russell Joffem co-founder of a telephone line and Internet site that seeks to empower patients by laying out facts about the disease and the range of treatments.

Dr Russell Joffe, Hamilton psychiatrist and Dr. Anthony Levitt of the Clarke Institute, in collaboration with psychiatry chairs of Canadian Universities, started the 2 lines. They reaised funds for it from McMaster University, the Ontario health ministry and 5 competing drug manufacturers. In the 1 1/2 years of operation they have been overwhelmed by calls - the Consumer line fielded 28,000 calls totalling 4,033 hours. Close to 7000 people have tried the self-assessments offered by the phone service [and on the Internet site].

[from the article by Jane Gadd, "Depression: How a phone call can help" Globe & Mail Oct. 1/97].


- 1-888-557-5050 (health professionals) primary focus of organization is professional education available nationally, with Nurse information officer.

- 1-888-557-5051 (public number) Consumer line: nationally on trial basis only, usually just Ontario basis; free service and designed to work in concert with existing mental health professionals

Both lines have 3 hrs audio library, 70 messages. All messages are digitized and can be faxed back (28,000 calls in first year) --- 242,000 minutes of listening to messages --- 80 % of use is public line

web site

resource centre provides information on the treatment and diagnosis for mood disorders

There is an expert medical panel from across the country who assists in information development. The founders and medical panel write the scripts themselves based on their clinical expertise and knowledge and have them reviewed externally. All the information is in-house produced -by prominent scholars and is as current as exists--- and is CANADIAN content.

For the consumer line: information is also written by the two doctors, but they have a committee advisory board and have done focus group and consultations to shape the content for the public line -- for families, sufferers and providers - as a clinical tool for the public.

The most requested health topics for consumers, according to use of the line, include recognizing depression and the signs and systems (30% of calls); self-assessment on depression using a touch-tone phone is also popular, but generally, an even distribution between five main areas:

1) recognizing depression

2) detailed info on depression

3) coping

4) resources and programs in your area

5) detailed info about drugs

An Information officer is available at anytime during office hours, but only 5 % use this option:

- 65% want to know about resources and programs in their area

- for mental health care

- try to match people up with services that are known in their area

- not qualified

- mail out materials are available for similar types of questions

- cannot give out advice about specific conditions, but only on population based feedback (Canadian Medical Association gave them feedback on this question... and a letter)

- not a crisis line

The most requested health topics for health professionals tend to be more specific treatment questions, with the number 1 issue: co morbidity - people who have illnesses and drug interactions; and also different medications, new therapies (e.g. magnet therapies) giving out articles on specific treatment questions, and general information requests.

Michael Quinn noted that most callers are seeking medical education about options - counseling and psychotherapies, expected benefits, alternative therapies, etc. (comprehensive overview of the treatment of depression). He noted that 50% of people with clinical depression won't seek help - less than 20% get help for depression because symptoms of depression are seen incorrectly as a syndrome. It IS an illness and IS life threatening (15% suicides) but also very treatable. This service

arms the practitioner with as much accurate info as possible as quickly as possible.

submitted by Susan Ewing