How Does Depression Affect The Brain?
Depression is a highly common mood disorder that has direct a negative effect on the way we feel, think and behave. It is different to simply feeling a little low after a bad day or being sad when you have major or minor life events occur.
Depression is a more intense, ongoing feeling of sadness or hopelessness that can last for days, weeks or months even when there may be no apparent reason for these feelings to be present in your life.
It is now estimated that depression affects over 350 million people worldwide and whilst some of these people may only suffer depression once during in their lives for a relatively short period of time, others can have several long lasting episodes of depression that can seriously impact their lives. This form of depression in called major depressive disorder (MDD)
When suffering from depression we can have trouble functioning in our everyday lives such as at school, work, social occasions and more.
Symptoms that are used to diagnose depression include:
- Ongoing feelings of hopelessness and sadness
- Losing interest in previously enjoyable activities such as socialising, exercise and sex
- Rapid and extreme weight gain or weight loss often caused by an decrease or increase in appetite and activity.
- Mental and physical fatigue
- Not being able to sleep or inability to get out of bed
- Constant feelings of restlessness
- Inability to focus, concentrate think or make decisions
- Unfounded feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Persistent thoughts of death or suicide, and possibly even attempts at suicide
How Does Depression Affect The Brain
Know that we know some of the symptoms of depression let’s take a look at some of the physical effects it has on the brain.
The latest research highlights three areas of the brain that are most affected by depression, they are:
- The hippocampus
- The amygdala, and
- The prefrontal cortex
The hippocampus is an area in the centre of the brain that is responsible for forming new memories and regulates the production of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is released by the body during times of mental and physical stress, which is more prevalent when suffering from depression.
When these excessive levels of cortisol are present for extended periods it can slow the production of new neurons in the hippocampus and shrink existing neurons resulting in memory loss and increased likelihood of continued depression symptoms.
In summary persistent depression can increase memory loss and affects the brain’s ability to regulate cortisol by shrinking the hippocampus.
The Amygdala is another part of the brain that has been closely associated with depression. The Amygdala is responsible for facilitating emotional responses like fear and pleasure. Medical research has found that people suffering from depression will have an enlarged Amygdala that is therefor more active. This increase in size and activity is caused by ongoing exposure to high levels of cortisol.
This extra activity can cause disturbances in sleep patterns and other abnormal brain activity. It can also cause complications in other areas of the brain due to increased or imbalanced hormone activity.
The Prefrontal Cortex
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for regulating emotions, forming memories and making decisions. Located at the very front of the brain the prefrontal cortex has also been found to shrink when exposed to increased amounts of cortisol for extended periods of time.
A common belief amongst many researchers is that cortisol hormone levels are most responsible for altering chemical activities as well as the physical structure of the brain, which can cause the onset of depression.
So whilst it is now believed that depression can cause changes in the brain, we believe that any damage caused can be restored and even improved with the right treatment.
This treatment requires a multifaceted approach consisting of…
- Specialist Therapy Treatment
- Healthy diet and lifestyle choices
In the past many people suffering depression have relied solely on medication as a way to find relief, but most medications simply help alleviate the symptoms of depression and don’t offer a long term solution to overcoming this debilitating mood disorder long term.
So whilst tradition medication can still be very helpful the people who see the best results, and are able to be free from depression, take it upon themselves to a treatment for depression and take better care of themselves in terms of diet, exercise and caring for the mental health through meditation and other similar activities.