How Does Depression Affect the Brain?
Depression is a serious medical illness that causes a person to experience a persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest in things that they once enjoyed. It can affect how they think, feel and behave and prevent them from accomplishing tasks at work or school, and at home. A depressed person may feel like there is no reason to go on living.
According to expert providers of depression treatment in Dubai, this mood disorder, also called clinical depression or major depressive disorder, is not something that a person can easily “snap out of,” and it is more than a simple case of feeling the blues.
Some of the common symptoms of depression are:
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, emptiness, guilt, worthlessness or self-blame.
- Loss of pleasure or interest in typical activities such as hobbies, exercise or sex.
- A lack of energy, causing difficulty to complete even small tasks.
- Disrupted sleep cycles (getting too much or too little sleep).
- Outbursts of anger, frustration, or irritability.
- Slowed-down thinking, movements or speaking.
- Difficulty remembering things, deciding or concentrating.
- Changes in appetite (either reduced, causing weight loss, or increased, causing weight gain).
- Restlessness, anxiety or agitation.
- Recurring or frequent thoughts of death or suicide, or attempts at suicide.
If a person experiences these symptoms for at least two weeks, and these are observed to affect their usual ability to function, they can be diagnosed with depression.
According to Psychiatry.org:
- In any given year, depression can affect about one in 15 adults or 6.7%.
- One in six people will experience depression at a certain point in life (it most commonly emerges during a person’s late teen years up to their mid-20s).
- Women are more likely to experience depression than men; one-third of women will experience a major depressive episode within their lifetime.
What are the effects of depression on the human brain?
Depression can affect a person’s physical health in a number of ways. It can cause weight loss or weight gain, sleep difficulties, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, sexual health problems, inflammation, chronic pain, and worsened chronic health conditions.
But aside from these, research shows that clinical depression also has physical effects on a person’s brain.
Here’s what has been observed thus far:
1. Depression causes the brain to shrink.
A study published in the British Medical Bulletin revealed that having clinical depression can cause certain regions of the brain to “shrink” or to lose gray matter volume (gray matter refers to tissue containing brain cells).
Shrinkage was observed in the following areas of the brain:
- Hippocampus. This area is important for memory and learning, as well as regulating emotions and stress hormones. Shrinkage here causes memory loss, and difficulty concentrating and completing familiar tasks.
- Prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain processes emotions, enables planning and rational thinking, adapts to challenges, and controls impulses. Shrinkage here causes brain fog, irritation, agitation, memory loss, and difficulty in thinking clearly and making decisions.
- Thalamus. This part of the brain is in charge of sleep, wakefulness and alertness. Shrinkage here causes irregular sleep patterns, which then affects a person’s appetite and overall well-being.
2. Depression is linked to brain inflammation.
While it is still unclear whether depression causes brain inflammation, or it is the other way around, there has been a link observed between the amount of time a person experiences depression and the percentage of inflammation seen in the brain.
Left unattended, brain inflammation can hurt or kill brain cells as well as prevent new cells from developing. This, in turn, results in shrinkage, reduced neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change as a person ages), and decreased neurotransmitter function.
Ultimately, inflammation can negatively affect a person’s memory, mood, ability to learn, and brain development.
3. Depression is associated with reduced brain oxygen levels.
Depression can cause changes in a person’s breathing, and this could contribute to reduced oxygen levels in the brain or hypoxia.
Brain cells begin to die after just five minutes of oxygen loss, and the person may experience trouble moving parts of their body, some temporary memory loss, and inattentiveness.
Are these effects permanent?
Further study is still needed to determine if these significant effects of depression on the brain are irreversible.
What scientists urge people to keep in mind is that the brain is neuroplastic, or can be changed, so there is hope that certain depression treatments and management methods may yield a positive impact on a person’s brain and overall health.
- One of the first things a person experiencing clinical depression can do is to ask for help. Tell your doctor about symptoms you are experiencing. They may prescribe antidepressants that can effectively manage symptoms and the physical effects of depression.
- Explore cognitive and group therapy, which takes people through stress-relieving mindfulness techniques. Psychological stress reduction may prevent the onset of depressive episodes.
- Consider a brain training method such as neurofeedback therapy, a medication-free program that can teach you to control your thoughts and emotions so you can feel positive and revive your zest for life.
Overcoming depression and improving overall health
Depression is a medical condition that can significantly affect one’s brain and body. Understanding and treating depression can help a person regain a fuller, healthier life.
Talk to us today so you can discover how neurofeedback therapy can lead to a healthier, happier you.
Dr. Upasana Gala is the founder and CEO of Evolve Brain Training, a Neurofeedback-centered institute that focuses on using non-invasive brain training techniques to maximize the brain's true potential.