Brain Areas Involved In Depression
Several brain areas in particular seem to play a major role in the development of depression symptoms.
The amygdala, located deep in the center of the brain, is involved in many emotional responses including activating the brain and bodys fear response. This area tends to have increased activity in people with depression.
Research has also shown that some areas of the brain appear to shrink and thus function less well in people with chronic depression. These areas include the hippocampus, which is involved in long-term memory, and the thalamus, which regulates sleep and wake cycles and handles sensory and motor input. Its important to note that, while chemical imbalances and other brain mechanisms are involved in depression, they alone dont cause depression. Genetics, traumatic experiences, medical conditions, chronic stress and even personal characteristics can make someone more likely to develop depression.
Some people are more emotionally reactive and feel their feelings more strongly, says Areán. That alone doesnt necessarily mean they will develop a mental illness, but they may be at higher risk in situations where they dont have much control.
How Does Depression Affect Your Brain
Curious to know, “what does depression do to the brain?” In this article, we’ll dive into a discussion of what depression is and its effects on the minds of people who have been diagnosed. We’ll also discuss how treatment can help reverse the effects of depression on the human brain. If you think you are suffering from depression, you can start treatment today through a therapy matching service like Advekit.
What Is Major Depression
Major depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mood disorder and mental illness that causes significantly and persistently low moods. 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 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 The Brain Transmit Signals
Human brains are made up of approximately 100 billion cells. Between each cell are gaps called synapses. To transmit signals across synapses, brain cells secrete neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters ferry across the synapses and are absorbed by neighboring brain cells. That stimulates these brain cells to secrete neurotransmitters of their own, which, in turn, activates their neighbors. In this way, messages are relayed through the vast network of brain cells. But brain cells also need to shut off signals. They have two ways of doing that: they can reabsorb excess neurotransmitters floating in the synapses, or they can break down and get rid of excess neurotransmitters. There are several kinds of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. To work as efficiently as possible, different types of antidepressants have been developed to act on different neurotransmitters.
How Depression Affects The Brain
When we think about depression, what comes to mind are feelings and emotions or, for some, the absence of feelings and emotions. In order to really understand depression, however, its important to be aware that the condition has physical aspects as well. Most people understand what depression looks like on the outside, in terms of a persons behavior, but our medical understanding of the actual progression of the disease and its treatments continues to evolve.
What we know right now is that, on a chemical level, depression involves neurotransmitters, which can be thought of as the messengers that carry signals between brain cells, or neurons.
The current standard of care for the treatment of depression is based on what we call the monoamine deficiency hypothesis, essentially presuming that one of three neurotransmitters in the brain is deficient or underactive, says Rachel Katz, MD, a Yale Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry.
But according to Dr. Katz, this is only part of the story. There are about 100 types of neurotransmitters overall, and billions of connections between neurons in each persons brain.
There remains much to learn.
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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.
Why Depression Is Serious
There are many types of depression, including major depression, persistent depressive disorder , as well as situational types such as seasonal affective disorder and postpartum depression.
Our understanding of depression is really evolving in medicine. We used to lump everyone into the category of major depression, but within the past 10 years or so weve realized that not everyone falls into that bucket, says Patricia Areán, a clinical psychologist and professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the UW School of Medicine.
Anyone of any age, gender, race, ability or cultural background can develop depression. And its a serious problem: Over the past decades, suicides have increased in the United States, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Additionally, The World Health Organization lists depression as a leading cause of disability worldwide.
Depression doesnt just cause absenteeism, but presenteeism, where youre present but you cant function well, youre having a hard time focusing and the quality of work isnt good, but you still show up because you dont feel comfortable calling in sick, Areán says.
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Treatment Technology: Brain Chemistry And Depression
How does depression affect the brain? Research continues to reveal answers, and Deep TMS takes advantage of the most current knowledge about brain connectivity and plasticity. These treatments may give symptom relief when depression has not been responsive to other treatments. As the brain is better understood, technology will continue to have a vital role in the evolution of depression assessment.
How Do Antidepressants Affect The Brain
Dr. Geoffrey GrammerChief Medical Officier
If you’re struggling with major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or another mental health condition, you’ve probably thought about using antidepressants. It’s not uncommon for people considering, or even currently taking, antidepressants to ask questions like, “What do antidepressants do to the brain?” and “Do antidepressants permanently alter brain chemistry?” Knowing how antidepressants work with your brain chemistry can help you better understand how these medications may help you.
Many people have found relief from their symptoms by taking antidepressants. Scientists think antidepressants enhance the brain’s ability to transmit signals that regulate moods. However, scientists still don’t know precisely how the medications work. One theory is that people with depression have low levels of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Antidepressants may correct these chemical imbalances. Or, they may improve brain signaling by promoting the growth of new cells and connections in the brain.
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Are The Brain Changes Permanent
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A Long Road To Understanding Depression
For years and years, doctors and researchers assumed that depression stemmed from an abnormality within these neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin or norepinephrine. But over time, these two neurotransmitters did not seem to account for the symptoms associated with major depression. As a result, doctors began to look elsewhere.
The search proved fruitful. There are chemical messengers, which include glutamate and GABA, between the nerve cells in the higher centers of the brain involved in regulating mood and emotion, says John Krystal, MD, chair of Yales Department of Psychiatry, noting that these may be alternative causes for the symptoms of depression.
These two are the brains most common neurotransmitters. They regulate how the brain changes and develops over a lifetime. When a person experiences chronic stress and anxiety, some of these connections between nerve cells break apart. As a result, communication between the affected cells becomes noisy, according to Dr. Krystal. And its this noise, along with the overall loss of connections, that many believe contribute to the biology of depression.
There are clear differences between a healthy brain and a depressed brain, Dr. Katz says. And the exciting thing is, when you treat that depression effectively, the brain goes back to looking like a healthy brain.
In this video, Drs. Katz and Krystal explain how depression affects the brain.
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Changes In Structure And Connection
There are many components to our brains. Shrinkage is one example of how the areas of the brain can change structurally. However, depression can also affect the brain by increasing the size of certain areas or changing their shape. Because of this, how the areas of the brain interact and communicate with each other can be altered by depression.
Changes in the structure of the brain due to depression usually takes at least 8 months to become apparent. These changes can result in long-lasting or permanent shifts in memory, attention, mood, and emotions–even after a major depressive episode has ended.
Risk Factors For Depression
Depression can affect anyoneeven a person who appears to live in relatively ideal circumstances.
Several factors can play a role in depression:
- Biochemistry: Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.
- Genetics: Depression can run in families. For example, if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70 percent chance of having the illness sometime in life.
- Personality: People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress, or who are generally pessimistic appear to be more likely to experience depression.
- Environmental factors: Continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.
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How To Get Help
Tell your doctor if you have symptoms of depression. Theyâll want to rule out other health conditions so they can find you the right treatment. You might need to make some lifestyle changes, take medicine, or talk to a mental health specialist. Some people benefit from a mix of all three.
Some treatments for mild or serious depression include:
- Healthy diet change
Suicide is a serious symptom of depression. Get help right away if youâre thinking about hurting yourself. You can reach someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Theyâre available anytime, day or night.
Molecular Psychiatry: âSubcortical brain alterations in major depressive disorder: findings from the ENIGMA Major Depressive Disorder working group.â
Translational Psychiatry: âProfound and reproducible patterns of reduced regional gray matter characterize major depressive disorder.â
Neural Plasticity: âThe Role of Neural Plasticity in Depression: From Hippocampus to Prefrontal Cortex.â
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America : âDepression, antidepressants, and the shrinking hippocampus.â
Frontiers in Immunology: âThe Role of Inflammation in Depression and Fatigue.â
The Lancet Psychiatry: âMicroglia and major depression: not yet a clear picture,â âAssociation of translocator protein total distribution volume with duration of untreated major depressive disorder: a cross-sectional study.â
Do Drugs Help Relieve Depression Some Doctors Say No
Most drugs that aim to treat depression advertise that low serotonin levels in ones brain cause depression. However, no research in the past came to this conclusion. Many pharmaceutical companies use peoples misconceptions about the illness to their advantage.
The serotonin theory is simply not a scientific statement. Its a botched theory a hypothesis that was proven incorrect. Dr. Joseph Mercola
So, the chemical imbalance theory doesnt explain depression, but do the drugs treat it? A review done by the University of California in 2009 found even more damning evidence against pharmaceutical companies. The study found that one-third of people treated with antidepressants do not improve, and many of them stay depressed.
Now, we know that many people report feeling better with antidepressants. However, we have no way of telling if this is just a placebo effect or not. In summary, we know that depression causes a smaller hippocampus in the brain, but we can reverse this damage. Our thoughts and emotions play a massive role in our mental health, but conventional medicine doesnt seem to guarantee a recovery, or even a small breakthrough, in many cases.
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Conclusion And Future Direction
In vivo MRI scans have made great achievements in the study of psychiatric disorders, which have resulted in the dawn of the understanding of the pathophysiology of psychosis, especially of MDD. Many brain region alterations have been reported, and some crucial circuits have also been revealed via imaging studies. The discovery of brain network put forward new ideas in the understanding of the disease of depression, providing effective stimulation sites and efficacy evaluations for the commonly used transcranial magnetic stimulation or deep brain stimulation techniques. In addition, these findings also suggest that MDD is not only due to local lesions but is also a multiloop disorder. However, previous studies still had limitations, and more research is needed in the future. First, most of the studies mentioned small sample sizes, which could have increased the falsepositive and falsenegative rates of the results. Therefore, multicenter cooperation not only would solve this problem of sample content but also could result in more indepth research. Second, the identification of significant lesions relies on longterm followups and the comparison of treated and nontreated patients. Future studies need to conduct longitudinal studies with larger samples. Moreover, using animal experiments to verify the neuroimaging findings and applying the results to humans is very important and will be a big step in the application of neuroimaging to the clinical field.
Worsening Chronic Health Conditions
People who already have a chronic health condition may find their symptoms are worse if they develop depression.
Chronic illnesses may already feel isolating or stressful, and depression may exacerbate these feelings.
A person with depression may also struggle to follow the treatment plan for a chronic illness, which can allow the symptoms to get worse.
People who experience depression and who have a chronic illness should talk to a doctor about strategies for addressing both conditions. Preserving mental health may improve physical health and make a chronic condition easier to manage.
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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.
Are The Changes Permanent
Scientists are still trying to answer that question. Ongoing depression likely causes long-term changes to the brain, especially in the hippocampus. That might be why depression is so hard to treat in some people. But researchers also found less gray matter volume in people who were diagnosed with lifelong major depressive disorder but hadnât had depression in years.
While more research is needed, thereâs hope that current or new treatments might help reverse or ward off some brain changes.
Hereâs what research says about two common depression treatments:
Antidepressants. These work on the chemicals in your brain that control stress and emotions. Thereâs evidence these drugs can help your brain form new connections and lower inflammation.
Cognitive behavior therapy . Experts think CBT promotes neuroplasticity. That means you can change your brain in a way that helps your depression.
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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.