What is Depression?

Depression – an umbrella term that includes disorders such as major depression, seasonal affective disorder, and persistent depressive disorder– can manifest in anyone. Sufferers often feel run down, hopeless, and alone.

If you suspect someone you love may be battling with depression, there are various signs you can watch for. You may notice these symptoms after childbirth, following the loss of someone close, during the winter months, or at random.

What Are We Doing?

One Mind is implementing unprecedented strategies to help major depression patients.

Toward developing individualized diagnosis and treatment, Dr. Conor Liston has neuroimaged 1000 patients to discover four distinct depression subtypes.

Dr. Kafui Dzirasa has developed a prototype “brain pacemaker” that restores stress resilience in mouse models.

Dr. Mary Kay Lobo is developing a genetic target for future precision depression medications.


Physical Signs of Depression

  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Headaches
  • Sluggishness
  • Aches and pains with no clear cause
  • Digestive issues, such as stomach pain and nausea
  • Slow speech
  • Changes in hygiene habits (e.g. someone who showered daily may now go days without bathing)

Behavioral Signs of Depression

  • Excessive sleeping or insomnia
  • Skipping activities they used to look forward to
  • Complaints of hopelessness or feeling lost
  • Social isolation
  • Frequent bouts of crying
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty focusing

If you suspect your loved one has depression, encourage them to seek help. There are a variety of treatment options available.

Major Depressive Disorder, also known simply as “Depression,” is an ongoing illness involving despair so severe and so chronic that it can take away someone’s desire to enjoy time with friends, get out of bed for weeks or, in extreme cases, even go on living.

In any given year, over 20 million American adults suffer from depression. Here are some symptoms that, taken in aggregate, may indicate that someone has Major Depressive Disorder:

Symptoms of Depression (from the DSM-V manual)

  • Consistently feeling hopeless, extremely sad, guilty or worthless
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Trouble sleeping and/or waking up
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty focusing during the day
  • Unintended shifts up or down in weight
  • Declining physical health
  • Thoughts of suicide

If you think you may have depression, know that doctors or mental health professionals may be able to help.

What causes depression?

Depression is caused by different things in different people. Someone with a family history may develop major depression after a divorce while someone else with a serotonin imbalance may develop the disorder in spite of having no family history or major stressors. Most often, a combination of genetic, environmental, and physiological factors determine whether or not a person develops depression.

Physiological causes

The neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine have been linked to depression1. These important messengers send signals from one part of the brain to another. Serotonin is tied to mood, appetite, sleep, and sexual desire. Dopamine is responsible for reward-seeking and pleasure. Finally, norepinephrine helps regulate the body’s reaction to stress. Some people with depression have imbalanced levels of one or more of these vital neurotransmitters.

Hormones are another physiological factor behind depression. In those with hypothyroidism, depression may develop as the result of decreased thyroid hormone levels in the body. Pregnancy, PMS, and menopause are other conditions that can alter the body’s hormone levels and contribute to depression.

Recent research by One Mind-funded scientists is revealing additional physiological risk factors for depression. Dr. Scott Russo’s research has linked inflammation and a hyperactive immune system as potential depression causes. Likewise, Dr. Conor Liston’s research has started to distinguish different subtypes of depression based on measured patterns of brain electrical activity.

Is depression genetic?

Scientists believe that there is a genetic component to depression2. To test this, researchers looked at sets of twins. In identical twins where one twin had depression, the other had a significantly higher chance of developing depression than the general population. This remained true even in situations where identical twins weren’t raised together. In fraternal twins, the probability decreased but still remained higher than in the general population. This suggests that genes play a role in depression. However, the fact that identical twins who share 100% of each other’s DNA did not always both develop depression indicates that genes are only a piece of the puzzle.

Do environmental factors cause depression?

While physiological and genetic components play into depression, a person’s environment is also important3. Major life changes, substance abuse, loss, financial issues, physical abuse, and a host of other environmental stress factors can increase a person’s risk of developing depression.

There are a number of ways to treat depression including various therapies and medication. However, due to the variety of potential causes, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan.

Overcoming depression may mean having patience and working closely with your doctor to determine what forms of treatment are right for you.

According to the World Health Organization, over 350 million people worldwide currently suffer from depression. Although current medical treatments can help, their troublesome side effects and incomplete therapeutic effects mean that they are not nearly good enough to cure the disease outright. These people deserve better. At the One Mind, we believe cures for depression are not just necessary but possible and we are committed to financially supporting the journey to find them.

Today, scientists funded by the One Mind have made numerous tremendous advances in understanding Depression raising our potential to treat depression. For example, Dr. Scott Russo’s newly developed understanding of the relationship between depression and the immune system has enabled him to partner with Johnson & Johnson to begin developing two new medications to treat the disease. Likewise, Dr. Stephanie Dulawa is investigating a molecular mechanism which can be targeted via a future class of fast-acting antidepressant medications in mice. She has shown related compounds to relieve depression-like behaviors in five days versus the current three-week benchmark.

“Brain diseases really get to the heart of who we are as human beings,” says One Mind funded scientist Dr. Vikaas Sohal. “How we feel, and how we relate to the world and to other people. So, of course we want to help everybody function as best they can.”

Learn more about One Mind-funded discoveries on the trail to depression cures.