5 Ways Depression Can Affect Your Brain
Depression is a powerful psychological condition that affects your brain chemistry and alters your brain structure over time. More than 264 million people around the world have clinical depression, according to a 2018 Global Health Metrics Report. It’s among the leading causes of disabilities worldwide.
The symptoms of clinical depression range from persistent sadness to brain fog, appetite changes, sleep disorders, and suicidal thoughts.
Yet, many people are unaware of how depression changes your brain, despite how prevalent the condition is.
Depression Changes Your Brain Structure
Widespread changes occur in the brain structure of patients with depression, explains a 2018 CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics Journal study. Specifically, the frontal lobe, thalamus, striatum, parietal lobe, and hippocampus are the most affected brain regions.
These brain regions are associated with:
Frontal lobe: mental processing, attention, emotional regulation, and decision making
Thalamus: emotional regulation, memory, and arousal
Striatum: reward response, motivation, impulsivity, and emotional regulation
Parietal lobe: organization, decision making, and emotional processing
Hippocampus: memory recall and reward evaluation
Alterations in gray and white matter volume depict these changes in the brain. Using an MRI, fMRI, and DTI, researchers have observed a decrease in gray and white matter that causes these structural changes.
Depression Shrinks Your Brain
The longer you’re depressed, the more those brain regions shrink. Experiencing multiple depressive episodes leads to increased brain shrinkage as well.
As the gray and white matter in your brain shrinks and changes, it also decreases your brain’s connectivity.
Depression Affects Brain Connectivity
The brain is divided into different regions that communicate with each other through their connectivity. A decrease in brain connectivity negatively impacts how information flows through your brain, leading to several troubling cognitive and physical effects.
Ultimately, changes in brain connectivity alter your brain’s ability to function.
Depression Alters Brain Function
Depression negatively affects how your brain processes your emotions and external stimuli. This leads to brain fog, a decrease in motivation, poor decision making, disorganization, and poor memory recall.
The lack of mental clarity associated with depression can evoke social disconnect and impulsive behaviors like substance abuse. Substance abuse can intensify the symptoms of depression as well.
If you’re combatting depression and substance abuse, the road to recovery starts with telling someone, which is easier said than done.
Find a local rehab center. Highly-trained, empathetic individuals are there who will guide and help you through recovery in a safe environment. While in rehab, you’ll develop skills to better understand your emotions and cope with them in a healthier way.
Depression Causes Brain Inflammation
Research shows those diagnosed with chronic inflammation often develop symptoms of depression. Patients with depression also show signs of inflammation.
In a 2015 Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience Journal review, researchers explore the connection between depression and inflammation. Not only is it linked to inflammatory pain, but depression can also cause brain inflammation.
Brain inflammation releases neurotoxins in the central nervous system, which kills brain cells. This further complicates the issues caused by brain shrinkage, structural changes, and decreased connectivity.
Brain inflammation can cause symptoms of chronic inflammation to become even worse too, which severely impacts your quality of life.
As brain cells die off, it reduces your brain’s ability to adapt and change because you’re losing cells faster than you’re regenerating them. This can increase your resistance to traditional treatment options, making it harder to treat your depression.
Depression affects more than just your emotional wellbeing. It's well-known that depression can cause physical ailments, such as fatigue or gastrointestinal issues. But the physical effects of depression on the brain remain unrealized because it’s not visible to the naked eye.
Over time, depression changes the structure of your brain, the size of various brain regions, and the connectivity between each region. This decreases your brain function and can lead to brain inflammation. However, you and your doctor won’t know how much depression has changed your brain unless you get an fMRI scan.
Early intervention is vital in treating depression. The longer it’s left untreated, the deeper the damage is done to your brain. But there’s still hope, even in cases of long-term or treatment-resistant depression.
Treating depression all starts with telling someone. If you’re feeling depressed, seek professional guidance. Also, never hesitate to speak with your doctor, a psychologist, or psychiatrist.