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Online program to help men with depression

AAP logoAAP 14/09/2016

With men more reluctant than women to seek help for depression or suicidal thoughts, the Black Dog Institute hopes an online program can help with specific coping strategies.

Developed for the institute's My Compass website, which helps people improve their mental health, the Man Central program helps men identify early warning signs of depression, monitors their moods and provides tips on how to cope.

Dr Kristine Kafer, a clinical psychologist and consultant with the institute, said men's depression tends to be hidden and isn't always picked up by traditional screening tools.

The online program was based on research carried out in 2014 that explored common risk factors for men having suicidal behaviour and how to intervene in their downward spiral.

It also identified a "tool box" of strategies men use to cope when they feel sad and ones they use to stop the "black dog" creeping up on them.

Common coping mechanisms included taking time out, doing something they enjoy, keeping busy, exercising and spending time with a pet.

To prevent depression, men liked to eat healthily, keep busy and maintain a sense of humour.

Dr Kafer said the research found ideas about masculinity and stoicism often meant many men blamed themselves and felt ashamed if they were depressed.

They were reluctant to ask someone for help, believing they should be able to cope.

Dr Kafer says what happens is that many men withdraw and sometimes take to overworking or drugs and alcohol to cope.

"It's this kind of spiral that leads to suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts)," she told AAP. "Once you add in a stressful life event it all compounds."

Dr Kafer said the Man Central program aims to identify if men are in a downward spiral toward depression.

"It teaches really helpful skills about being in tune and monitoring early warning signs and what to do about that," said Dr Kafer ahead of an address to the Australian Psychological Society's congress in Melbourne on Thursday.

A four-week trial of the program among 215 men in 2015 found more than half learnt skills to deal with problems that might arise in the future or felt more in control of their moods.

They also reported reductions in symptoms of depression and improvements in work and social functioning after using the program.

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