People Suffering From Depression Run The Risk That Their Brains Shrink And Will Remain Smaller After The Disease Is Over The Discovery Provides New Knowledge About The Brain And New Understanding Of How Antidepressants Work
A depression not only makes a person feel sad and dejected it can also damage the brain permanently, so the person has difficulties remembering and concentrating once the disease is over. Up to 20 percent of depression patients never make a full recovery.
These are the conclusions of two projects conducted by Professor Poul Videbech, a specialist in psychiatry at the Centre for Psychiatric Research at Aarhus University Hospital.
In one of the projects he scanned the brains of people suffering from depression, and in the other he conducted a systematic review of all the scientific literature on the subject.
My review shows that a depression leaves its mark on the brain as it results in a ten percent reduction of the hippocampus, he says. In some cases, this reduction continues when the depression itself is over.
Antidepressants can help
What Happens To The Brain During Depression
Mental health conditions like depression can change your brain chemistry. If you want to have a better grasp on your mental state and what kind of treatment you need, you must understand how your brain reacts to depression.
In this overview, we cover key health information on the effects of depression on your brain and how these translate to changes in both mental and physical health.
Shrinkage Of Several Brain Regions
One of the most common changes seen in a depressed patients brain is shrinkage, especially in the hippocampus, thalamus, frontal cortex, and prefrontal cortex. How much these brain areas shrink depends on the length and severity of your depression.
A chemical imbalance caused by the hormone cortisol a.k.a. the stress hormone is what triggers this shrinkage. Depression causes the hippocampus to raise its cortisol levels, impeding the development of neurons in your brain. The shrinkage of brain circuits is closely connected to the reduction of the affected parts function.
While other cerebral areas shrink due to high levels of cortisol, the amygdala enlarges. The amygdala controls emotion, so this may cause issues like sleep disturbances, mood swings, and other hormone-related problems. An enlarged amygdala is also linked to the development of bipolar disorder.
Areas Of The Brain Affected By Depression
How depression affects the brain is multifaceted, and many areas of the brain may be impacted. Research has lead us to believe that depression affects the following areas of the brain:
These all must be addressed when taking a comprehensive approach to answering the question: how does depression affect the brain? When specific areas of the brain arent functioning properly, we can see many changes in behaviors and thought processes. Some of the more significant changes which capture what depression feels like include, but are not limited to:
- Increased anxiety
- Change is speech patterns
How Depression Affects The Body
There are, of course, mental symptoms of depression, such as feeling sad or down. Anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure in things that usually bring joy, is also common.
Some people have one of those two symptoms, but some people dont, Areán says.
In fact, many depression symptoms are felt not in the mind but in the body.
Physical depression symptoms can be polar opposites depending on the person. Hypersomnia, or excessive sleepiness, is common, as is insomnia. Appetite can also be affected, either by not having one or by overeating or eating without thinking. Some people feel a complete lack of energy or motivation others feel restless or on edge.
One aspect to depression that is not in the diagnostic criteria is that it can make you feel sick, achy and tired all the time. Its not that youre being lazy, its that you dont have energy and your brain and muscles feel tired. That makes it challenging because the thing you need to do is the thing you dont feel like doing, so you have to push yourself, Areán says.
How someones symptoms manifest can depend on their age, too. Children and teens are more likely to be restless or irritable, whereas older adults may have things like stomach problems and insomnia.
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Current And Future Depression Treatments
Understanding the chemistry of depression may help people better understand the treatments available. While psychotherapy is helpful for some people with depression, if there is a chemical imbalance in the brain, it may not be enough to address their symptoms.
If a person finds that therapy alone is not helping them manage their depression, they may want to try medication. For some people, antidepressants combined with psychotherapy proves especially effective for addressing their symptoms.
To complicate treatment further, medication does not always work for people with depression. One study evaluating the effectiveness of currently available antidepressants found that these medications only work in about 60% of people with depression.
Even if your depression is primarily linked to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, depression affects both your internal and external life. Therefore, medication alone may not be sufficient to address all the ways in which depression can affect you.
There is also research that suggests neurotransmitter levels can be affected by factors other than medication and that psychotherapy can help a person learn about them. For example, stress may contribute to low levels of certain neurotransmitters.
While taking an antidepressant medication might help with the symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily address the cause of the low levels. In this situation, therapy to improve stress management and reduce stress could potentially be helpful.
Medication Recreational Drugs And Alcohol
Depression can be a side effect of a lot of different medicines. If you are feeling depressed after starting any kind of medication, check the patient information leaflet to see whether depression is a side effect, or ask your doctor. If you think a drug is causing your depression, you can talk to your doctor about taking an alternative, especially if you are expecting your treatment to last some time.
Alcohol and recreational drugs can both cause depression. Although you might initially use them to make yourself feel better, or to distract yourself, they can make you feel worse overall. See our pages on the mental health effects of recreational drugs and alcohol for more information.
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What Does Depression Look Like
Depression is a serious mental condition affecting the individuals mood, feelings, thoughts and well being. There are several effects of depression on the brain. For example, your patterns of appetite and sleep. They would be unable to experience in pleasure in any activities and would possess a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. These are all the observable changes in an individual with clinical depression. These changes are are just some ways how depression affects the brain.
While some people experience just a single episode of depression, some others experience several episodes of depression. This type of chronic depression can hamper your daily functions such as school, work, or even maintaining relationships. Apart from mood and behaviour, they affect physical aspects such as sleep and appetite.
It is also possible that they have suicidal thoughts or ideations and also there could be few attempts at suicide in few cases. There few changes that the brain undergoes in terms of structural and functional alterations which is basically due to the chemical imbalances in the brain.
Although the causes of depression are not known, there are several factors that contribute to increasing the risk of depression:
- Genes Studies reveal that people with a family history of depression are more likely to develop the illness.
- Stress Stress can come from many sources such as traumatic life events like a divorce or a death.
Signs Of Severe Depression Disorder
When you have a major depressive disorder, you are more than just feeling down for a day or two depression causes a bad mood that you cant shake for weeks. Some of the key symptoms and signs of depression are:
- Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Anxiety, restlessness, frustration, or irritability
- Feeling worthless, guilty, or ashamed.
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering.
- Thoughts of suicide and death
You may be diagnosed with depression if you have some of these symptoms for a couple of weeks or longer, if they are severe enough to disrupt your normal functioning, and if they cannot be explained by substance abuse, medications, or an illness.
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How Does Clinical Depression Affect The Brain
Even though clinical depression largely affects how an individual feels, depression is more than feeling sad. Most people feel sad from time to time. Individuals who are clinically depressed experience prolonged periods of hopelessness. One of the primary distinctions between temporarily feeling down and clinical depression is the effect each experience has on the brain.
Individuals dealing with the normal ups and downs of life may cry, feel upset, and avoid friends and family for temporary periods of time. They might even sleep in or stay up all night. But ultimately, their ability to function, complete tasks, and maintain responsibilities remains the same. They bounce back from their sadness and their brain, for the most part, remains mostly unaffected.
Individuals living with clinical depression, however, dont recover from their feelings of hopelessness and sadness as easily. Their symptoms can linger for weeks, months, or years. They struggle to function like they once did. Even managing small tasks and responsibilities can become difficult. This is because clinical depression can physically change the brain, the bodys command center.
Research shows that clinical depression can in fact:
- Shrink the brain
- Reduce oxygen levels in the brain
Susceptibility To Physical Health Issues And Illness
Stress hormones make your heart beat faster as if youre constantly in danger. Because your heart isnt meant to beat at high speeds for extended periods, this could lead to a life-threatening heart illness in the future.
Depression also impacts your digestive systems health, especially if you binge eat or take antidepressant medications. If you rapidly gain weight during a depressive episode, youre more likely to develop diseases closely tied to obesity, like diabetes. Conversely, depression may also cause someone to lose their appetite for food and experience rapid weight loss, which can be equally harmful to the body.
Some people may use drugs or alcohol as a way to deal with their symptoms of depression, leading to substance use disorders. In some cases, this substance abuse issue can develop into life-threatening addictions.
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Does Depression Cause Cognitive Dysfunction
Issues with depression and cognitive dysfunction have been acknowledged for a long time but previously, it was often thought to be secondary to the other symptoms of depression. For example, due to lack of motivation , it was thought that people with depression simply weren’t motivated to accomplish the cognitive tasks asked of them.
Now, however, researchers believe this not to be true. Not only do we know of the cognitive deficits present during acute depressive episodes but we also know that some cognitive deficits do not completely go away even when depression is in remission. Impairments in memory are one such deficit that has been shown to be present even when the person is in recovery, independent of medication status.Additionally, through brain scans, it is now known that depression negatively affects brain volume in some areas and that may be one reason people experience impaired functioning in cognitive areas.
Depression Causes Physical Symptoms
- Increased aches and pains, which occur in about two out of three people with depression
- Chronic fatigue
- Insomnia, lack of deep sleep, or oversleeping
What causes these symptoms of depression? Changes in the brain have an effect on many of the body’s systems. For example, abnormal functioning of brain messengers such as serotonin can alter your pain threshold. This means you become more sensitive to pain, especially back pain. Serotonin also affects sleep and lowers sex drive — nearly half of everybody with depression has problems with sex.
Unfortunately, individuals with depression, as well as their families and health care professionals, often overlook the physical signs and symptoms of depression. In one case, researchers found that sleep troubles, fatigue, and worries about health are reliable indicators of depression in older adults. But, they found, these signs are routinely and incorrectly dismissed as a natural part of aging.
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Depression And Cognitive Deficits
Cognitive deficits refer to the specific areas in which cognitive dysfunction is seen and depression is associated with five areas of cognitive deficits:
Not all studies show the same cognitive impairment levels or areas, but what does seem consistent throughout research studies is that:
- Not all people suffer from cognitive dysfunction in depression
- Not all people with depression experience cognitive dysfunction in the same ways
- More severe depressions produce greater cognitive dysfunction
- More incidences of depression cause greater cognitive dysfunction
- Older individuals with depression suffer from greater cognitive dysfunction
- Psychotic depression produces greater levels of cognitive dysfunction
Video courtesy of Global Medical Education
Depression Affects The Body And Mind
DEPRESSION causes physical symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain or weight loss, insomnia, loss of sex drive and aching all over.
Mental illness caused by depression includes cognitive dysfunction, memory loss, low self-esteem, irritability and anxiety.
These symptoms can range from mild to so severe that you feel hopeless. If youre feeling that way, its important to speak to your doctor.
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The Effects Of Depression In Your Body
Depression is one of the most common mental health illnesses in the United States, affecting about 26 percent of adults. Depression is technically a mental disorder, but it also affects your physical health and well-being. Learn more about some of the most common symptoms of depression, as well as how depression can affect your entire body, especially if left untreated.
symptoms of depression . Its estimated that each year 17 million American adults will experience depression. However, clinical depression, especially left untreated, can interrupt your day-to-day life and cause a ripple effect of additional symptoms.
Depression affects how you feel and can also cause changes in your body. Major depression is considered a serious medical condition that may have a dramatic effect on your quality of life.
Is Brain Damage From Mental Health Conditions Permanent
The majority of changes and damage to the brain caused by untreated depression are not believed to be permanent, but more research is still needed.
When depression is effectively treated, most people commonly experience an improvement in symptoms, and their brains return to typical function and structure.
If you or a loved one think you have depression, consider seeking treatment with a doctor or mental health professional at the first signs and symptoms. Early intervention can stop depression symptoms from worsening and may help prevent changes to your brain.
Though depression may cause temporary changes to the structure and functions of your brain, you can potentially heal this damage.
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Depression And The Hippocampus
They found this effect in people with recurrent depressive episodes, but not first-time episodes. The effect was stronger in people with early onset depression .
The researchers also point out that studies have linked depression to changes in the size of your amygdala, a brain region that deals with emotion.
One theory to explain these depression-related cognitive changes is that stress-induced chemical reactions may lead to a loss of neurons the nerves that carry information in the brain and suppressed growth of new neurons.
The Role Of Key Neurotransmitters
The three neurotransmitters implicated in depression are:
There are other neurotransmitters that can send messages in the brain, including glutamate, GABA, and acetylcholine. Researchers are still learning about the role these brain chemicals play in depression and other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and fibromyalgia.
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For Many Years People Thought That Antidepressants Worked Primarily Because They Affected The Neurotransmitter Serotonin But The Latest Research Indicates That Antidepressants Influence Neurogenesis By Starting The Formation Of New Nerve Cells
Professor Poul Videbech
While depression can have serious consequences for the patient, Videbech says there is hope as the brain can be forced to heal itself in many cases.
Treatment with antidepressants and electroshock seem to be able to start the formation of new nerve cells, so areas that have shrunk can be built up again. Videbech expects that future studies will document the same effects with psychotherapy.
Studies at the Centre for Psychiatric Research, where people suffering from depression have been followed for more than ten years through brain scans, certainly show that shrinking of the hippocampus is reversible if the depression is treated.
Experience from own practice
Videbech started his studies after he had diagnosed and treated many depression patients at the hospital. A symptom typical of the disease is difficulty in concentrating and remembering.
The Hippocampus , is a convolution of the brain, located in the medial temporal lobe. The hippocampus is important for our short-term memory.
But he discovered that the symptoms often continued when the patient had officially recovered.
Their symptoms were very uncomfortable, at times crippling, and after I had heard the same story many times I started wondering about the cause,. So I started scanning their brains.
Studied all the literature
The discovery came as something of a surprise, and Videbech thought that other researchers may have made the same discovery in recent years.
Stem cells form new nerve cells