Four Ways Depression Affects Your Brain
Many things change as a result of depression. Although you might not notice it, there are different ways depression affects your brain. The changes your body goes through are because of chemical imbalances.
Sometimes, it might seem like depression is a purely emotional condition that only affects your mood and feelings. However, those who suffer can also have physical and chemical changes in the brain. Not only does it affect their mental health, but the rest of their bodies, as well.
This is a bigger global problem than many people think. According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people suffer depression around the world. On average, about 800 thousand people commit suicide every year because of depression. Also, this is the leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 29.
Depression isn’t just a temporary emotional change. The changes it causes to the brain make it very hard to control. For that reason, it’s important to recognize it and treat it with a specialist instead of thinking it’s a bad mood that will go away on its own.
How Depression Affects Your Brain Physically
Depression directly affects three parts of your brain: the hippocampus, the cerebellar tonsil, and the pre-frontal cortex. Next, we’ll explain these three parts in more detail.
1. Shrinkage of the Hippocampus
The hippocampus is in the central part of the brain. It’s responsible for storing memories and regulating the production of cortisol, which is the stress and happiness hormone.
When you suffer from physical or mental stress, including depression, your body releases cortisol to try to alleviate the effects of stress. However, when cortisol levels are very high, it causes a chemical imbalance. Then, neuron production decreases and the hippocampus shrinks.
2. Shrinkage of the Pre-Frontal Cortex
Located in the anterior part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex is responsible for regulating emotions and creating memories.
The pre-frontal cortex can also shrink from too much cortisol. In fact, specialists think that this is what causes postpartum depression in some women.
3. Inflammation of the Cerebellar Tonsil
The cerebellar tonsil is located in the temporal lobe, the lower part of the brain. It regulates emotions like pleasure, happiness, and fear among others.
Too much cortisol can also inflame it, making it more active. Then, it causes difficulty in sleeping and abnormal behavior patterns. Also, being more active causes other parts of the body to release more hormones than normal, and can cause other health complications.
4. Lack of Oxygenation
In addition to the ways depression affects your brain physically, it also indirectly causes changes.
Studies show that the body oxygenates less during periods of depression. However, we don’t know whether it happens because of changes in breathing patterns or something else.
This reduction in oxygen affects cells all over your body. In particular, brain cells can suffer damage or die.
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How do the ways depression affects your brain affect your overall health?
These changes in your brain don’t happen immediately. However, they’re the product of depression. Studies suggest that it takes about 8 to 10 months for the hypothalamus and prefrontal cortex to shrink.
Dr. Thomas Frodl, a researcher at the Magdeburg hospital in Germany, followed up on patients with depression for three years. They saw that physical changes in the brain increase over time.
Some of the ways depression affects your brain are:
- Memory loss
- Decreased neurotransmitter function
- Stagnation of brain development
- Decreased learning ability
- Cognitive problems
- Concentration problems
- Changes in mood
- Lack of empathy for others
- Difficulty sleeping
How to Treat the Ways Depression Affects Your Brain
Scientific studies suggest that the chemical imbalance from too much cortisol and other chemicals is the main cause of emotional problems and physical changes in the brain.
Therefore, the goal of treatments is to regulate the production of hormones. For example, it helps regulate cortisol and serotonin. Also, you can do this with medication and/or with therapy. Therapy is highly recommended even if you are already taking medication.
Research shows that therapy helps modify the structure of the brain. Additionally, it helps fight the symptoms of depression. That’s why it’s important to seek professional help if you think you suffer from depression.
Also, there are things that people with depression can do on their own to help improve their brain function and fight depression.
- Control your stress levels.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat healthy foods.
- Sleep well.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
In short, depression is a disorder that goes beyond just mood swings. Although you can’t see it with the naked eye, the brain undergoes physical changes that interfere with a person’s general well-being.