When most people think about depression, they focus on emotions. In particular, they think up images of sadness, sorrow, and hopelessness. Indeed, these emotions are often typical of depression. But the overall impact is far more complex. For example, persons struggling with depression frequently deal with physical symptoms. One category of such symptoms is how depression affects the brain.
Understanding this connection can go a long way in getting the help you need. It can be challenging to identify possible symptoms of any condition. The good news is that you don’t need to be an “expert” to begin recognizing the link between the mental and the physical.
Depression is a Mental Health Disorder
Before we go any further, it’s always helpful to remind yourself that there is a huge difference between “feeling depressed” and being diagnosed with depression. Everyone has times of grief, low self-esteem, or sadness. They’re uncomfortable, but definitely normal. In many instances, you can lift your spirits by doing something that makes you happy.
Major depressive disorder involves chemical changes in your brain. It sometimes has a clear trigger. Just as often, you may be unable to discern a cause. The point is that the type of changes we’re about to discuss is not the result of life’s inevitable blue periods. They related to individuals dealing with diagnosable depression.
3 Ways Depression Affects the Brain
1. Size Reductions
This is not as simple as it may sound. It’s not as if your entire brain suddenly gets smaller. But certain parts of the brain can undergo changes due to depression. Let’s explore three such parts.
- Hippocampus: This area of the brain is connected to your memory, emotional learning, and perception of where you are in space. It is particularly vulnerable to changes in stress hormones (common with depression). This feeds a dangerous cycle. As the hippocampus shrinks, it becomes less able to control impulses. You are most susceptible to negative thought patterns. Your memory storage is dysfunctional. All of this (and more) adds up to an increased risk of more depression.
- Prefrontal Cortex: The PFC is where your “executive function” is formed. It guides you to make rational plans and engage in high-level thinking. Managing and recovering from something like depression requires you to learn and apply new skills. When the PFC is reduced in size, this is difficult.
- Amygdala: The size of the amygdala can increase or decrease when stressed or depressed. Either way, when it is impaired, you may experience anxiety and a lack of motivation. Needless to say, these are traits that do not help with depression treatment.
There is still debate about what comes first, depression or inflammation. But either way, the presence of inflammation creates an environment that is conducive to long-term depression. It has quite a negative effect on brain cells, e.g. damaging them, preventing the growth of new brain cells, and speeding up the aging process in the brain.
3. Oxygen Uptake
The longer depression lasts, the more it can change your breathing rhythms for the worse. Left unchecked, this can result in less oxygen reaching the brain. This can cause more inflammation and all the downsides discussed in the section above.
Do Not Go It Alone
As you can see, we’re not talking about a situation that just needs a little cheering up. It is serious and requires support from an experienced professional who can help you by providing depression counseling.
Getting proper treatment can reduce what depression does to your brain. The idea is to get yourself on that path as soon as possible. If you or someone you know is displaying depression symptoms, let’s connect for a free consultation.