What is Depression

Everyone occasionally feels depressed, but for some these feelings do not go away within a couple of weeks. Until recently, people with serious, long-lasting depression had few options. In many cases, people suffering from depression viewed their condition as a sign of personal weakness and never sought treatment.

Untreated depression increases the risk for substance abuse, heart disease, and suicide. Because suicide kills nearly twice as many Americans as homicide, we can save lives through better detection and treatment of depression.

NIH-funded research has indicated that depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain, and they are highly treatable. Brain-imaging technologies, such as functional MRI, have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different from those of people without depression. The parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thought, sleep, appetite, and behavior appear to function abnormally.

Researchers have successfully treated some forms of depression with localized brain stimulation, a method that has also been effective for Parkinson’s disease or some forms of epilepsy. New drugs now in development appear to take effect much sooner than current antidepressant medicines, which usually must be taken over many weeks to effectively relieve symptoms.

Our ability to treat mental illnesses like depression has changed the lives of millions of Americans and their loved ones. Today the vast majority of people, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with medications or cognitive behavioral therapy or a combination of both.

For more information, visit the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at www.nimh.nih.gov.