McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

DIRECT toll-free depression information line "goes national"

Published: October 5, 1998

UPDATE July, 2011: This program is no longer offered.

The highly successful provincial toll-free depression information and education line launched by a team at the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University is now available across Canada.

The Depression Information Resource Education Centre (Toll-Free), also known as DIRECT, was launched in Ontario in 1996 to national acclaim. It becomes national today after a successful trial period held last year.

DIRECT operates two lines, one for physicians and one for the general public, each carrying messages on more than 70 separate topics. Callers can also contact a "live voice" for additional assistance. The public line can be reached at 1-888-557-5051, code 8000. The physician line is 1-888-557-5050, code 800.

Just this weekend in Los Angeles, the McMaster Regional Mood Disorders Program, of which DIRECT is a key component, was awarded the American Psychiatric Association's Psychiatric Services Achievement Gold Award for 1998.

Dr. Russell Joffe, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University, is one of the founders of DIRECT, along with Dr. Anthony Levitt who now heads the mood disorders program at Sunnybrook Medical Centre.

"The issue of recognizing depression and manic depression represents one of the more prominent barriers to reducing the enormous personal and economic impacts that depression has in Canada," Joffe says.

The Canadian Psychiatric Association estimates that one in four women and one in 10 men will be diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives. Yet, studies published show that less than half those suffering from mood disorder seek help. And when they do, fewer than one-quarter get specific help for their depression.

"That's a tragedy," Joffe says, "since depressive disorders remain the most treatable of all mental illnesses," although they continue to affect hundreds of thousands of Canadians. The impact of untreated and poorly treated depression takes an enormous toll on individuals, families and employers.

"We know that a large proportion of the population suffers from mood disorders, but we were completely taken aback by the response to the service," he explains.

"Our goal in creating DIRECT was to ensure that as many health care providers, patients and families, could arm themselves with the knowledge required to help them seek or provide the best possible treatment as soon as possible. Now that we have moved to the national stage, we can have a profound impact on the lives of Canadians affected by depression."

DIRECT receives support from Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital, the Ontario Ministry of Health, and five pharmaceutical companies: Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Group, SmithKline Beecham Pharma, Wyeth-Ayerst Canada Inc., Eli Lilly Canada Inc. and Pfizer Canada.

The launch of the national line takes place during Canadian Mental Health Awareness Week, running Oct. 4 to 10, whose slogan this year is "Let's unmask mental illness." World Mental Health Day is Oct. 10 and National Depression Screening Day is Oct. 8.

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