January 24, 2008

A new training programme for families and professionals who come into contact with people with depression was launched yesterday, writes Ronan McGreevy .

The programme is aimed at helping people understand the condition and equip them better to deal with it.

Called Beyond the Blues, the programme is a response to the demand by families and professionals such as the Garda, teachers, clergy, family support workers and mental health professionals who still do not understand either the causes or the symptoms of depression.

Aware, the voluntary organisation which assists people directly affected by depression, says there remains a serious level of misunderstanding of the disease, despite attempts in recent years to raise awareness about it.

A recent Aware survey found almost a quarter of people regarded depression as a state of mind rather than a clinical illness.

Aware chief executive Geraldine Clare said: "Increasingly we are being asked for help and information by those who are affected by somebody having depression.

"Sometimes in the course of the work we would be asked by teachers or parents or those working within the community who say they do not know what they can do.

"There seems to be a vacuum of information and education around mental illness. We have a strong sense of that because of the feedback we get on the ground. We're working to encourage people to get the help and to break down some of the barriers."

Ms Clare said confusion over the causes and symptoms of depression was not helped by the casual use of the word depressed.

"It can get confused with the misuse of the word depressed. People say, 'Oh, I'm depressed because it is Monday morning', 'I'm depressed because my football team got beaten'. The general use of the word depression means that it can be dismissed as just that, when we are talking about a more prolonged and debilitating condition.

"It's still very misunderstood, it's very hidden in its nature and it can be mistaken for flu or being run down or needing a tonic, a lack of energy and poor sleep."

Beyond the Blues is a follow on from Aware's school programme Beating the Blues, which was aimed at students in secondary schools.

This latest programme was launched yesterday by radio and television personality Ray D'Arcy as part of Depression Awareness Week. This week's campaign will carry the message that recovery from depression takes time.

Beyond the Blues is a five-part training programme which aims to cater for people who are depressed, their relatives and professionals. It will be rolled out across the State and those interested can apply through Aware to take part in it.

One module will deal with depression and the stigma of the illness. There will be separate modules for people who have been hospitalised as a result of depression and those who are currently living with depression or elation.

There will also be separate modules for family members of those who suffer from depression and for professionals who encounter depressed people through their work.

Aware also launched a new leaflet yesterday titled Continuing Your Recovery from Depression: A Guide to Staying Well. This is aimed at people who are recovering from depression and it offers reassurance and tips for dealing with this period of transition.

Its central message will be that people who are coming out of a serious period of depression should not rush their recovery.