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Exploring depression
Exploring depression

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Exploring depression


If you are about to embark on this course, please be aware that this is the second part in a three-part series covering anxiety and depression. We would encourage you to start with Exploring anxiety [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Depression represents a major global health concern. The condition contributes significantly to the overall global burden of illness and is ranked highest (with over 63 million Disability Adjusted Life Years or 'DALYs'; see Exploring Anxiety Section 3.3) amongst the DALYs attributable to mental, neurological and substance use disorders, according to the WHO’s Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (Whiteford et al., 2015). The 12-month prevalence of depression in Europe is 6.9% (Bschor et al., 2014). Anxiety disorders can precede depression, and symptoms can overlap, with anxiety often co-existing with depression. The course of illness can be episodic with periods of ill health and recovery. More than half of depressed patients recover within six months, but in around 15% of affected individuals, depression can become chronic and severe and some may experience long-term depression lasting several years (Bschor et al., 2014).

Resistance to treatment is a common issue −a third or more of patients do not respond to trials of several weeks of treatment with antidepressant medications (Bschor et al., 2014). The ‘Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression’ (STAR*D) trial, a large study involving 4,000 participants in the United States, found 37% to be in remission after a 12-week treatment period with antidepressants, and 67% after four treatment trials (Rush et al., 2006).

Risk factors for developing chronic depression include family history of mood disorders, early onset depression, and long duration of depressive episodes. Comorbidity with anxiety disorders, personality disorders, substance dependence or abuse, poor social integration and negative social interaction are factors commonly associated with depression (Bschor et al., 2014).

But what does it actually feel like to experience depression? Is depression on the increase? Is this an illness of modern civilisation? Can depression serve as an adaptive response – is there any benefit to depressed mood? Why do some people who experience traumatic life events become vulnerable to depression while others do not? Why is it that around a third or more of people with depression do not respond to current antidepressant treatments? What other emerging treatment options are out there? We will explore these and other questions next.

This OpenLearn course has been developed from the Open University course S826 Introduction to mental health science (Stage 1 in the Masters in Mental Health Science), and is suitable preparatory reading if you are considering moving on to postgraduate study in this area. A number of related free courses are also available on OpenLearn. They are recommended to complement your studies. They can serve as background reading, introduce you to underlying concepts, and provide a basis that will help to support and broaden your knowledge and understanding of topics further. You can find these in the Further Reading section.

Please note that a glossary of terms is not provided on this course. However, you may find it helpful to keep one as you study. The course may contain some specialist vocabulary, terms or ideas with which you are unfamiliar, such as a medical condition, a complex technical term or a specific procedure or assessment. At this more advanced level of study, we expect you to use your initiative and find the missing information for yourself, perhaps using medical dictionaries or encyclopaedias, or by conducting an online search using a search engine. Searching for information is also an overt feature of study at Masters level, and will help you to better prepare for postgraduate study.