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World Health Day 2017: Let's talk about depression

This year’s World Health Day focuses on a condition which is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide – depression.

New figures from the World Health Organization show there are now 300 million people living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. In the UK, one in 10 people are affected by depression.

What is depression? 

People’s experience of depression varies greatly. It is a common part of life to feel down from time to time, but people with depression have feelings of hopelessness, severe sadness, emptiness or guilt that can be persistent for weeks, months, or even years.  

Depression is a serious condition that can be life-threatening – studies have shown that it is a risk factor for suicide. 

What can research do for depression? 

Despite the condition affecting so many people, we know very little about depression, or how best to treat it.

And research into the area this is underfunded and unprioritised – with only £1.55 spent each year for every person affected in the UK.

Depression is often treated by a combination of talking therapies and medication such as antidepressants. These treatments are effective, but only for some, not all. And many people will have to try many different treatments before they find one that works for them. This ‘trial and error approach’ can have a detrimental long-term impact on recovery and wellbeing.

We’re funding research to help us tackle this head on. Such as Dr Claire Gillan’s project, which could radically improve our ability to predict how well someone will respond to an antidepressant by using machine-learning techniques. We’re also investing in understanding the causes of depression, funding Dr Colette Hirsch’s work investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain behind negative thoughts, and Dr Ian Maze’s project studying serotonin – a chemical that carries messages between different parts of the brain – and it’s link to depression.

Last year, we also asked 3,000 people living with depression to tell us what they think the priorities should be for research – the report established ten key research priorities. Now we’re focused on making sure the results influence the direction of future research – and we’ve already heard of researchers using these priorities as inspiration for funding bids.

Coralie’s story

Coralie describes the tough reality of living with depression and anxiety – it took her a decade to get the right treatment – as she tried multiple medications, some of which made her symptoms worse. Read her story. 

Last updated: 7 April 2017

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