Throughout Australia, various non-government agencies, charities, local councils and other organisations run support groups for people experiencing depression. Many people spoke of their participation in such groups. Support groups proved to be a valuable resource for some, especially for those who felt unsupported by or unable to talk to their family and friends, or who wanted to connect with others with similar experiences.
Many men, particularly those reluctant to discuss their emotional experiences in other contexts, found male support groups valuable. They provided a safe environment for these men to share their experiences with others who ‘understood what depression was like’, offered emotional support, allowed people to discuss experiences and strategies that were helpful and those that were not, aided in learning and developing new skills, and proved to be an invaluable source of information. Some people who found the experience very helpful stayed on and remained involved for long periods of time. For Colin, participation in a male support group helped him to overcome his shyness and build self-confidence that he felt he had lacked his entire life. He also believed that helping others in the group was integral in regaining his self-esteem. For other men, being able to openly acknowledge their experiences of depression, share with others and receive support was a very positive experience.
Colin is a retired air quality consultant. He is married with four adult children. Ethnic background' Anglo-Australian.
The [peer support group] were a bunch of men who range from I suppose you'd say just retired to - I think I’m about the oldest one there at the moment - but we've uh, we all have a desire to talk and I think one of the greatest things in [peer support group]is the trust that runs between the guys. To begin with it’s a lot of leg pulling goes on, there’s a lot of ribaldry goes on, but as the time comes we get - we sit and talk to one another quite openly and being able to share things with and I’ve picked up two or three guys within the [peer support group] who are suffering themselves. One of them has been and seen his doctor and has been diagnosed. He started complaining to me about his wife, how she had drifted away from him and how his children were playing up. I just said to him, ‘Uh, well you know what your problem is, don’t you? You.’ Startled look on his face, then very quietly I said, ‘Go and see your GP. Promise?’ He has, and he has depression.
So [peer support group] I can help them as they helped me 'cause I get a lot of fun being with other men of basically the same age group. We do woodwork and metal work and anything, you know, it’s [sighs] - we built the place. We were given a - they call it a sow’s ear and we had to turn it into a silk purse. That was very helpful.
Age at interview:
Age at diagnosis:
Ron is a community mental health worker who lives alone with his cockatiel. He is divorced but is in another relationship, and has an adult son from his first marriage and a close circle of friends. Ethnic background' Scottish / Irish.
But I went and they didn’t abuse me like my father, they didn’t nag me like my mother, they understood and they said, ‘Yes, we've had these types of symptoms and behaviours and yes it’s uh - we call this - called depression and, it’ll take time to get well, just keep coming back and that’s your practical task’. Which I did, I went back the next week and the next week and it took me probably six weeks to even start to feel safe and comfortable enough to even talk about personal issues, which is quite good. I started to trust these people who I had never met before.
They affirmed, my self esteem improved as I started changing and demonstrating this stuff, they just didn’t affirm me because I was there, they affirmed me when they saw me change. To act differently, speak differently, talk about what I was doing, oh, you’ve got a job now, that’s fantastic Ron and, you know, you might feel anxious but keep doing it. So they did that grad - slowly, gradually and those support groups supported me but they didn’t do things for me. I still had to do the work, I still had to work with myself, it’s an ordinary thing, but they would affirm me.
Several women with experiences of perinatal depression found support groups did not cater to their needs. Discussing group members’ negative experiences that seemed to be worse, or different from their own did not help in dealing with their particular problems. Some were critical of the supposed benefits of craft activities that were offered in their respective support groups. A few new mothers also commented that getting organised to just attend support groups, amongst all their other daily tasks, further contributed to their distress, which diminished the beneficial aspects of attending such a group. However, for many being able to have 24 hour contact with a volunteer when they felt the need to talk to someone was critically important. Such services are often run through non-government organisations.
Emma is an occupational therapist currently on maternity leave. She lives with her husband and two young children. Ethnic background' Anglo-Australian.
I did join a postnatal depression support group but I found it freaked me out more than it benefited me. Because I thought, this sounds terrible doesn't it, but I thought those poor girls were even worse than I was. , so it sort of almost felt like I was being dragged back down again.
How did you find this group?
A volunteer I think at [name of postnatal depression support group] when I called up - no, oh dear I can't remember. I just remember I con, I actually had to call [name of postnatal depression support group] on the phone a few time, just to talk to someone who understood. So I'd probably call them once a week.
I remembered when I had [younger son] I still had the fridge magnet up. And it was the kind of thing where I thought, oh well I could throw that fridge magnet away but it's useful to stick things up on. I won't need it one day and of course I did need it one day. And [name of postnatal depression support group] were beautiful. The, the girls at the other end of the phone - generally they were - no there were a few men.
[name of postnatal depression support group] they, whenever I call them they were divine. They - sometimes I just called them and just cried for 20 minutes into the phone and you could just get a sense that they understood where you were coming from.
While struggling with the stress of motherhood, Jane found the experience ofsharing in the 'joys of motherhood' by attending playgroup with other mothers difficult. For her, participating in the structured environment of a psychologist-led support group for women experiencing perinatal depression run by her local council was particularly helpful. Being able to share her experiences with other women who were also finding motherhood difficult and being able to listen to their stories was useful.
Jane is married with two children. She works as a consultant. Ethnic background' Anglo Australian.
I didn't want to have a conversation about how wonderful it was to be a mother. So my mother's group was actually full of women who really didn't want to be mothers which is quite ironic really. And so we would bond over red wine and moaning over our children not sleeping. So that was quite fun, you know, I quite enjoyed their - but there's only so much of that you can do without sending yourselves mad. So we'd probably only meet once a month, I guess, but I mean that was great, they were very, very honest about what they were going through. While my, the work colleague I'd mentioned before, he mother's group weren't like that, so she - her experience was quite - so it was interesting comparing the two.
In some ways mine helped in the sense that I could still be - I could at least be honest with somebody, but I didn't want to join - I mean, I had met other women with babies and they were saying come to play group and I just - if they were in la la land, as I called it, about, you know, how wonderful it was to be a mother of a small baby then I didn't want to know about it.
When I came out [place name] Council was running a pilot program of postnatal depression support group run with [NGO name] and a qualified psychologist. So there were 10 of us, I think, and we met on a weekly basis for an hour and a half to talk about, you know, what was happening for us and how we were coping.
They taught us some cognitive behaviour therapies. And we kept - I think that was a 12 week program, or 14 week program, and we kept it going. We employed the psychologist that had been part of the pilot, we kept her going for another 12 weeks I think after that and, just - that got most of us over the hump.
A few people spoke of the importance of being emotionally ready to take part in a support group. For some a support group was only helpful after a significant amount of time had passed since the event in their lives that had contributed to their depression. Rosie described the emotional journey that followed the death of her older son. Initially her profound sense of loss meant that sharing stories of loss with other bereaved parents was impossible. However, she found that with time she regained emotional strength and was able to better understand and support others with similar experiences.
Rosie works in an administration role at a large university and lives alone. She has two sons, one of whom died a car accident in 2006. Her main interest outside of work is softball. Ethnic background' Anglo-Australian.
I went to, I joined an organisation called the [organisation name]. They have a 24 hour helpline that you can ring. I think I did ring them once or twice and the people on the other end of that are all bereaved parents as well so they know exactly what you’re going through – or to a large extent. They were very helpful and I would recommend them to anyone who loses a child.
They also have a, I’ve forgotten what they call it but we all gather around and there’s a facilitator and you talk about your loss and your grief. I went to one of those with the Road Trauma Unit and I couldn’t handle it. It was probably within six months maybe of [older son] dying. It’s supposed to be a support network and there were people in that particular night I went, it was a cold rainy night.
Some people had lost their child you know, some time ago, some that had lost recently and everybody wants to tell their story and at that time I was still in that, I don’t want to listen to anyone else, I just want to talk about mine, because that’s all you can deal with. You can’t, I didn’t have the resources, the strength to listen to other people’s loss. I was barely coping with my own. So I remember you know, I had tears listening, because you go around the table, around the room one by one. Although there weren’t many people there, I just couldn’t handle it. So I didn’t go back.
Then I tried, they have the same scenario with a facilitator at [organisation name] and I went to one of those probably about 18 months, two years after [older son] died. I was in a better place emotionally to handle that. And there was a lady there who had just recently lost her son - he had been disabled in an accident like three years before or something but he’d just died. And I remember looking at her and thinking, ‘She’s in shock’ and she’s - it was a mirror and it was like, gosh that’s what I was like you know, two years ago or 18 months ago.
And I wanted to, I wanted to reach out and help her. I wanted to shake her, I wanted to tell her all the things that people had probably told me but I realised also she wasn’t ready to hear it because I wasn’t ready to hear it back then.
A few older people said that they thought a support group would be beneficial for them, but due to mobility issues were not able to attend.
Comodor is retired. He is married with two adult children. Ethnic background' Anglo Australian.
The last psychiatrist I went to, I had been seeing him on and off for some two and a half years. And eventually he said he thought I had one of those 10 per cent depressions which are different to the bulk of 90 per cent. He said there are, one is a very general one - easily identified et cetera. He said, then there is yours which doesn't respond to any treatment. He said I think that's what you've got and he said, all I can suggest is that you go and join the [organisation name]
Yes. The only trouble with that was, with me blind I can't drive. They're over at [hospital name] to buggery, right? Over there, and I - too far to travel. It's three changes of transport. So I never got round to doing that.
People whose families had supported them throughout their experiences with depression discussed the possible benefits of support groups for the families of those with depression. Often their family’s distress compounded the problems that they themselves were experiencing. They commented that their families found coping difficult without external support and access to information. Dani, whose parents were her main support, thought they would benefit from participating in a support group.
Dani studies counseling part-time, does volunteer work with young people, and lives in a share house. Ethnic background' Anglo Australian.
I think that would be a good idea. I think my parents were reluctant to go to support groups. And that might just be my parents, but I think they found that kind of hard. But they’ve often said to me that it would have been nice to have someone to talk to. And so I think that’s just as important. And I think it would have actually helped me as well because we often got into arguments about it. Whereas I think if they had the opportunity to say what they were feeling and talk about it with someone else we probably would have had a better relationship.
Last reviewed January 2016.
Last updated January 2016.