The internet can also help with depression

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Inwardly as dead: a forum as the first point of contact for depression

People who suffer from depression are often laughed at by their surroundings. If you do not suffer from the mental illness, you can hardly feel yourself into the patient's situation. "There is no reason to be sad," many of those affected are often told by friends, parents or partners. Because the inner emptiness cannot simply be turned off, depressed people are stigmatized and ultimately socially isolated. In contrast, the number of patients increases from year to year.

"You are dead inside as well," reports chairman Thomas Müller-Rörich (58) from the "German Depression League". Müller-Rörich knows what he is talking about, because more than six years ago the entrepreneur himself suffered from severe depression. The illness was manifested in such a way that nothing worked in professional life and the relationship with his wife and children was inevitably disrupted over time. Everything was "too exhausting" and everything "created fears", he reports on Tuesday in Stuttgart. Even reading and the subsequent cognitive understanding of texts is becoming increasingly difficult. "I was no longer able to read." In technical jargon, the phenomenon described is also called "pseudo-dementia" and occurs relatively often as a side effect during depression.

Internet forum for depressed people was the first lifeline
Patients are often ashamed of their illness. "For example, I was ashamed every day of how expensive my hospital stay is," reports Müller-Rörich. After a while he felt isolated. The 58-year-old came across a web forum for depression patients on the Internet. The exchange with those affected also quickly became a ray of hope. "It's like being stranded on a desert island and only having contact with an internet forum," he says. In the exchange forum, Müller-Rörich dealt with his illness and noticed that he was not alone with his problem.

Depression affects four million people in Germany
According to current estimates, around four million Germans suffer from severe or moderate depression. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2020 depression will be "number two widespread disease" just behind cardiovascular disease in western industrialized nations. According to the Barmer GEK health insurance companies, these spend 17 million euros annually for inpatient therapies for depressed patients in the southwest of the Republic alone. This means that spending has increased by 50 percent in the past five years (2006: 11 million euros). Accordingly, the number of patients at the Barmer health insurance has increased by 27 percent, from 55,000 to 70,000.

More and more stress and accelerated time
What are the causes? The founder of the forum, Dr. Nico Niedermeier, specialist in psychotherapeutic medicine, sees increasing stress in professional life and everyday life as a cause. The world of work is becoming increasingly dense, life is accelerating and burdens are increasing. "To believe that we just put it away is utopian." People increasingly find themselves in dependencies that frighten them. They go beyond their own limits more and more until “at some point you no longer feel yourself.” However, the increase in patients is also due to an increased diagnosis rate. Many doctors can diagnose the disease more quickly and patients are now much more open to depression than it was ten years ago.

The self-help forum has done a lot to help those affected to speak more openly about their illness. After all, the forum is the "largest German-speaking self-help portal with around 14,000 active forum participants". Since it was first put online in 2000, around 360,000 articles have been written by users. The option to enter something is especially very low-threshold. The portal not only brings those affected together, but also provides contacts and information. In addition to patients, relatives also use the forum, as "many suffer greatly from the partner's illness symptoms".

Forums cannot replace therapy
The psychiatrist Niedermeier emphasizes that the forum does not replace therapy, but it can be a way to deal with my own depression and to get a bit out of the illness-related isolation. "To the best of his knowledge there have been no suicides in the past 12 years, some suicide plans were prevented. Whenever a participant expresses suicide, the police would be involved to prevent the project. This ensures that the forum is not a "suicide forum".

Today Müller-Rörich helps other depressives. For a few years now he has had his own illness under control fairly well. Since then he has been taking medications called antidepressants. He wanted to drop her about two years ago. The relapse came during a trip to New York. As a result, Müller-Rörich suffered from sleep disorders and wine cramps. "I felt totally unsettled in the big city." Since this experience, he has come to terms with the medicines. After all, diabetics also have to take medication, he says.

First signs of depression
The symptoms of depression can be very diverse. It may take years for patients or doctors to recognize them. The most noticeable is the change in mood. Affected people lose the ability to enjoy or grief and the partner is no longer able to raise the mood by encouraging them. "I feel empty and lonely" is the sometimes most common expression of depressed patients. If there is a severe depression, some feel that life is completely meaningless. This painful condition also leads to thoughts of suicide and acute suicidality. Other complaints include inhibition of drive, inner restlessness, inhibition of the ability to think, helplessness, cardiac neurosis, chronic fatigue, brooding, loss of appetite, irritability and anxiety. Depression is a serious illness and requires medical and therapeutic support. (sb)

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Picture: Günter Havlena /

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