How does Depression Physically Affect your Brain?

How does Depression Physically Affect your Brain?

According to an estimate, almost 16.2 million people in the United States suffered one major depressive episode in 2016.

You are well aware of how depression can affect you psychologically. However, it also has the potential to affect the physical structures present in your brain.

These physical changes range from inflammation and oxygen restriction to a real shrinkage. In simple words, depression can impact your brain and affect all the central nerves.

If you want to learn about how depression affects your brain, keep reading. This article will provide in-depth information about the likely changes that occur and how to prevent them.

Brain Shrinkage

Scientists believe that suffering from depression can actually cause your brain to shrink. However, no one exactly knows which parts of your brain does depression affect the most. The extent of damage also remains unknown to date.

Certain studies, however, put forward the following list of areas most affected by depression:

  • Amygdala
  • Thalamus
  • Hippocampus
  • Prefrontal cortices
  • Frontal cortex

The amount of shrinkage seen in these areas depends upon the severity of depression. It also takes into account the total duration for which an episode of depression lasts.

For example, it takes 8 months to almost a year for depression to cause changes in the hippocampus. This can occur by a single bout of depression but multiple shorter episodes may also trigger it.

This said, when the shrinkage of a particular brain area occurs, it also affects its functions.

For example, amygdala and the prefrontal cortex work in harmony to control emotions. They also help recognize the emotional cues coming from other people.

This is why there is a reduction in empathy, especially in people who are suffering from postpartum depression.

Brain Inflammation

Scientists are keen to establish new links between depression and inflammation. It is, however, not clear how inflammation causes depression or vice versa.

However, the scientists seem to know that inflammation somehow associates with the duration of depression. They speculate that people suffering from depression for a decade develop 30 percent more depression. This is in contrast to people who have been suffering from depression for a lesser time.

As a result, you are more likely to develop inflammation in a persistent depressive disease. Brain inflammation often causes the cells inside the brain to die. This may lead to certain complications some of which include:

  • The decrease in functions of the neurotransmitters
  • Shrinkage of different parts of the brain
  • Reduction in the ability of the brain to change according to the process of aging

All these changes together may lead to problems in normal functioning including:

  • Problems with mood
  • Problems with memory
  • Problems in learning
  • Problems in brain development
Oxygen Restriction
How does Depression Physically Affect your Brain?
Image by Hemophilia News Today

People have been linking depression to a reduced oxygen supply to the body. These changes may occur due to the changes caused by depression. However, the scientists are not sure about which one comes first and which follows.

A cellular factor present as a response to the brain not receiving oxygen increases in some immune cells. This is particularly visible in people suffering from bipolar disorder and any major depressive problem.

Overall speaking, your brain is highly sensitive to a reduction in the oxygen supply. This may lead to:

  • Brain cell death
  • Cell injury in the brain
  • Inflammation

Both cell death and inflammation may lead to a host of symptoms. These symptoms particularly produce problems in learning, development, mood, and memory.

Even a short-term hypoxia may cause confusion in a similar way as it occurs in high altitude hikers.

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However, it is possible to treat it. Hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatments are particularly useful. They increase the circulation of oxygen in your body leading to a complete relief of depression.

Connective and Structural Changes

The effects of depression on your brain may also lead to various structural and connective tissue changes. Some of these may include:

  • A reduction in the functionality of the hippocampus: this mainly leads to the impairment of memory.
  • A reduction in the functionality of the prefrontal cortex: this may cause a person to stop getting things done. It also has the ability to harm the level of their attention.
  • A reduction in the functionality of the amygdala: this can cause a direct effect on your emotional regulation and mood.

Most of these changes typically take almost eight months to develop.

Sometimes, it is possible for the dysfunction of executive function, mood, memory, and attention to persist for long. This effect is particularly visible in conditions where depression lasts for long.

RELATED:  Depression can make you age faster than normal –Here is the reason why

Can you Prevent these Changes?

Do you or anyone around you suffer from depression? Do you think of different ways to help them but are not sure about any of them?

There are different ways to treat most of the symptoms of depression. However, some of them can particularly be helpful in minimizing the above-mentioned changes.

Some of these steps include:

Asking for Help

You must always be willing to ask for help. Most of the time, people suffering from depression tend to hide their problems. This is due to the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses and serves as an obstacle in the way of help. The stigma is particularly high for men.

From the information above, it has become quite clear that depression is not only a mental disease. It has physical components as well. This concept can help society reduce the stigma that usually surrounds it.

If you are suffering from depression, it is important to acknowledge that it is not your fault. Remember that you are not alone in this and there are many others who feel the same way as you do.

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Cognitive therapies and group support, especially those which incorporate stress-relieving mindfulness techniques, can help. These can, in fact, serve as a great source for finding support and overcome the stigmas. With the right kind of support, these therapies can even cure depression.

Taking Antidepressants

If you are experiencing a depressive episode currently, consuming antidepressants may help you. These medications can also help prevent the physical changes occurring due to depression.

Moreover, they are effective aids in handling these physical effects as well as the symptoms of depression.

If antidepressants alone are not working, you can pair them with psychotherapy. This combination is extremely powerful for fighting physical changes due to depression. It also makes coping a much easier.

Reducing Stress

If you do not suffer from depression at the moment, the best way to prevent the physical changes is avoidance. It is important to stay as far away from a depressive episode as possible.

A considerable evidence links psychological stress with the starting of depressive episodes. This is visible in different forms of depression.

Asking someone to reduce the element of stress from their lives may seem daunting or entirely impossible. However, there are some changes that you can make to reduce the levels of stress.

Try meditating, listen to soothing music, or take a relaxing shower.

Try getting help from others. There are a number of helpful resources there to make your journey easy for you.

Nancy Walker

Nancy holds a Medicine degree and a Masters of Science MS in Infectious Disease and Global Health (MS-IDGH) from Tufts University. She worked as a lecturer for three years before she turned towards medical writing. Her area of interest are infectious diseases; causes, mechanism, diagnosis, treatments and prevention strategies. Most of her writings ensure an easy understanding of uncommon diseases.

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