With the expected increase in the death rate among people with depression, researchers are looking for new ways to treat the illness that affects so many people worldwide.
By the year 2020, researchers expect depression to become second to heart disease as the leading cause of death worldwide. This is just one of the reasons they are working diligently to find a cure.
For those who suffer from depression, their world is a dark one. For many, that colorless life is unbearable as it persists year after year despite the variety of treatments that are used.
According to researchers, the secret to defeating depression starts with early intervention because the illness can, in fact, cause damage to the brain cells. The longer the depression continues, the longer the recovery time, and the longer it will take the brain cells to heal.
Traditional treatments involving a combination of psychotherapy and medications are still proving to be the most successful, although anti-depressant medications work only in 60% of the cases. For some people, they must remain on medications for the rest of their lives, but the luckier ones enjoy a life free from depression once their treatments have succeeded.
Researchers have begun testing other ways to cure depression that could put an end to the need for ongoing traditional treatments.
They have learned that in depressed people, the electrical activity - or alpha rhythms - in the frontal lobe of their brains is non-existent or very low, while other areas of the brain are over-active.
One new technique to treat this problem involves Magnetic Pulse Stimulation - a method that involves stimulating the under-active areas of the brain and deactivating the over-active ones. So far there is evidence it works. Patients have experienced a lightness, a sharpness they didn't have before. Magnetic Pulse Stimulation gives relief, but so far it does not offer a permanent solution because subjects have relapsed and the treatments have to be repeated.
Another method being examined involves implanting an electrical stimulator into the upper chest. It sends electrical impulses to the brain. It is very expensive and involves major surgery, making it one of the least desirable and available treatments.
Also shown to be effective is SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine), a synthetic form of a chemical produced naturally in the body that aids a number of chemical processes, including maintaining cells and influencing emotions and moods. It's said to be more effective than anti-depressants, but this is still being challenged. More research is needed to determine its effectiveness and the dosage requirements.
While researchers look for more effective ways of treating depression, the stigma surrounding mental illness persists. This significantly impacts those suffering from depression because they do not want people to know they have a mental illness.
They delay seeking treatment because of how it will be seen by their co-workers, friends and family. It's common today for people to suggest those who are depressed, "snap out of it", which is impossible since the condition is a chemical one that cannot be fixed that simply.
The place where the stigma is most prominent is in the workplace, where employers are concerned about losses through time off which can affect the company's economy. Out of fear of losing respect and their jobs, people suffer in silence.
Unfortunately, this delay in getting treatment allows the condition to worsen. In turn, it takes longer to recover.
Parents might think that all teens go through depression, and that it is a normal part of adolescence. This is untrue, as it's been proven that 80% of people go through their teens without any psychiatric disorder.
There is evidence to prove that it is inherited. If a parent had depression, there's a 90% chance the child will develop it, too.
Some work is being done to identify the genes that trigger depression to find out why certain families have the illness. Some people actually enjoy stress in their lives, while other people break down.
One sign that a person is suffering from depression is if that person who was once very active, perhaps even athletic suddenly loses energy and interest in things that they once enjoyed.
While we might suggest that conditions in the world today are enough to make us depressed, it's not enough for such self-loathing.
For some people the war continues, and those who can claim victory wonder if their future is safe. Time and early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference.