14/11/2015 7:09 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Depression In People With Type 2 Diabetes: An 'Invisible' Problem

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Jose antonio Sanchez reyes via Getty Images
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A new program aimed at helping people live happier and more active lives is being trialled by the Black Dog Institute in people with type 2 diabetes suffering from depression, in an effort to address the substantial personal and societal impact of the disease.

More than one million Australians have type 2 diabetes, however it is estimated there is another 500, 000 undiagnosed. Of those living with the condition, the onset of depression is far more likely compared to the general population with some research stating it is more than twice as common.

Experts agree that depression among people with type 2 diabetes is often “invisible", which is a problem because the relationship between the two is likely to be bidirectional -- with one worsening the other.

“Rates of depression are not only higher in people with type 2 diabetes, but a majority of those affected don't get help for their symptoms", Dr Janine Clarke, of Black Dog Institute told The Huffington Post Australia.

According to Clarke "not only does this worsen people's self care and quality of life, but it increases a person's risk of potentially fatal diabetes complications”.

As Saturday marks World Diabetes Day, Clarke said that activity around finding a cure for type 2 diabetes - while obviously important -- needs to be balanced with attempts to assist people living with the disease, who may not benefit from a cure in their lifetime.

“We need to be doing things to help people better manage the emotional impact of the disease so that they can live happy, healthy and productive lives" Clarke said.

Clarke is optimistic that the findings of the research program will help inform decisions about the best way to provide emotional support to people with type 2 diabetes suffering depression.

The program is fully-automated, delivered online and offers real-time symptom monitoring and access to psychological therapy via 12 interactive online learning modules.

"There is no human support for the program", said Clarke.

“It is entirely automated, personalised and interactive.”

The trial of the program is called SpringboarD and is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

“The online tool provides people with skills and strategies to manage the specific problem areas that are causing a person trouble, for example stress, worry, and sleep. However the program is flexible in that users can choose the strategies they would like to learn and it is completely confidential", Clarke said.

Participants in the trial (people aged 18-75 with type 2 diabetes) will be allocated at random to use one of two online tools for up to three months. They will be able to use the tool wherever and whenever they want on their computer, iPad or mobile phone.

Clarke said the program has previously been shown to work in a community sample of people with mild to moderate depression, anxiety and stress.

According to Diabetes Australia, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes cost the Australian economy over $14.6 billion per year.

“It is estimated that a person with type 2 diabetes and depression will cost the economy up to four times as much as someone with type 2 diabetes alone,” Clarke said.

While anti-depressant medication is used to treat depression in people with type 2 diabetes, studies have found psychological therapy has a more lasting benefit and fewer complications.

However, many people fail to get the help they need.

“There a number of reasons why help seeking for depression is low, including insufficient services, poor knowledge about treatment options, and cost. Online interventions are able to flexibly address many of these access issues", Clarke said.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.