“I wanted to talk things out and get better in that way,” John says. “And even after the first couple of times I saw my therapist, I could do a little bit more. Talking with her gave me some reality that how I was feeling wasn’t so abnormal, so unusual, or so terrible.”

Anne explains, “It’s just comforting sometimes to share the little day-to-day happenings in my life with someone who doesn’t get to see them first-hand.”

Some find support groups to be invaluable in helping them cope with their depression. “It’s through talking with others with similar experiences,” says Mary Rappaport, “that you can better understand what you’re going through.”

Changes in lifestyle are also important in the management of depression. Exercise, even in moderate doses, seems to enhance energy and reduce tension. Some research suggests that a rush of the hormone norepinephrine following exercise helps the brain deal with stress that often leads to depression and anxiety. A similar effect may be obtained through meditation, yoga, and certain diets.

Like many others who have not had to face depression themselves, John’s friends lacked knowledge about the disease. “I think the whole thing really affected my relationships with people,” he says. “I was pretty much a jerk all of the time. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I just wanted them to leave me alone.”

With the growing awareness of the seriousness of the disorder and the biological causes, the understanding and support of family and friends may be easier to come by. “The future looks very bright for individuals who in the past have often had to suffer alone,” says Rappaport. “More and more people are coming out, which encourages people to talk about it.” Among those who have “come out” recently to publicly discuss their personal bouts with depression are comedian Drew Carey and “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace.

Experts say that no one, young or old, has to accept feelings of depression as a necessary part of life. By trying different options for facing their personal challenges, Anne and others have learned what treatments help them most. “All in all,” Anne says, “I think my ability to weather the ups and downs of life has gotten better.”

Researchers continue to make great strides in understanding and treating depression. For example, scientists are beginning to learn more about the chromosomes where affective disorder genes appear to be located. “While there is a long way to go in coming up with even more effective drugs,” Laughren says, “there’s much ongoing research and reason for optimism.”