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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Explicit and implicit information needs of people with depression: a qualitative investigation of problems reported on an online depression support forum

Lisa J Barney1*, Kathleen M Griffiths1 and Michelle A Banfield2

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 0200, Australia

2 Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI), Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 0200, Australia

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BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:88  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-11-88

Published: 18 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Health management is impeded when consumers do not possess adequate knowledge about their illness. At a public health level, consumer knowledge about depression is particularly important because depression is highly prevalent and causes substantial disability and burden. However, currently little is known about the information needs of people with depression. This study aimed to investigate the explicit and implicit information needs of users of an online depression support forum.

Methods

A sample of 2680 posts was systematically selected from three discussion forums on an online depression bulletin board (blueboard.anu.edu.au). Data were examined for evidence of requests for information (reflecting explicit needs) and reports of past or current problems (implicit needs). Thematic analysis was conducted using a data-driven inductive approach with the assistance of NVivo 7, and instances of questions and people reporting particular types of problems were recorded.

Results

A total of 134 participants with personal experience of depression contributed to the data analysed. Six broad themes represented participant queries and reported problems: Understanding depression; disclosure and stigma; medication; treatment and services; coping with depression; and comorbid health problems. A variety of specific needs were evident within these broad thematic areas. Some people (n = 46) expressed their information needs by asking direct questions (47 queries) but the majority of needs were expressed implicitly (351 problems) by the 134 participants. The most evident need for information related to coping with depression and its consequences, followed by topics associated with medication, treatment and services.

Conclusions

People with depression have substantial unmet information needs and require strategies to deal with the difficulties they face. They require access to high quality and relevant online resources and professionals; thus, there is a need to rectify current gaps in the provision of information and limitations of dissemination. Greater knowledge about depression and its treatment is also needed at the general community level.