Searching for the roots of depression

Each year, an estimated 280 million people worldwide experience depression. Depression differs from the usual ups and downs that are part of everyday life. It is caused by a complicated mix of psychological, social and biological factors that vary from person to person. There are many types of depression, but they share several common symptoms, including a sustained feeling of malaise, loss of interest in daily activities and a lack of energy. Some people may also experience anxiety, trouble sleeping and loss of appetite. Mounting evidence suggests that inflammation may be an important trigger for depression. Depression also is a common symptom in many diseases, including Parkinson’s.

Research at VAI investigates the underpinnings of depression and suicidality, with a special focus on pregnancy-related depression, depression in Parkinson’s disease, and development of a blood test for diagnosing severe depression.

The toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 and may be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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By the numbers


  • 280M People worldwide experience depression each year*
  • 14% The percentage of Kent County, Mich., residents who reported 14+ poor days of poor mental health a month in 2020**
  • 13% The percentage of pregnant women and recent mothers who experience depression***

VAI scientist studying depression

Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Neurodegenerative Science

Behavioral Medicine

Recent Publications


*World Health Organization. 2021. Depression. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression

**Brummel, M. 2020. Kent County Community Health Needs Assessment. https://accesskent.com/Health/CHNA/pdf/FINAL-2020-CHNA-REPORT.pdf

***Office on Women’s Health. 2021. Depression during and after pregnancy. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/depression-during-and-after-pregnancy