What is depression?

The American Psychological Association describes depression (major depressive disorder) as a medical condition that negatively affects how individuals feel, think and behave. It is characterized by feelings of sadness and/or the loss of interest in activities that individuals once enjoyed. Depression decreases individuals’ ability to function at work and home by causing a variety of physical and emotional symptoms that may vary in severity. These may include:

  • Sadness or a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite, which may lead to changes in weight
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity, such as hand-wringing or pacing, or slowed movements and speech
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thinking of death or suicide

In order to be diagnosed with depression, these symptoms must last for at least two weeks, and may not be attributable to other medical conditions


Depression has been found to be the most common mental disorder. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that “Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide,” as it is estimated that over 300million people suffer from depression globally. In South Africa it is estimated that the number of individuals suffering from depression has risen by 58% from 1990 to 2013. The South African depression rate, especially in men, is said to be at an all-time high.


Traditionally, depression have been treated by means of psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy and medications. Diet and exercise have also been used in this regard. However, the long-term benefits of these approaches have not necessarily been effective. Other than this, up to a third of people suffering from depression don’t respond to treatment. They suffer from what is called Treatment-resistant depression (TRD). For these patients, there are limited options.

Numerous studies have found that different brainwaves, in different quantities, are associated with different moods. It only makes sense to target brainwave activity to alleviate symptoms associated with depression. The use of neurofeedback has become popular means to change brainwave activity, showing good results in the reduction of symptoms related to depression. A small pilot study, conducted in North Korea, has found that this approach is even effective in individuals with TRD.

With the ever-growing prevalence of depression in South Africa, neurofeedback training seems like a promising modality for alleviation of symptoms.