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Understandably, most people associate depression with sad emotions. But, in reality, this mood disorder causes a much more comprehensive range of symptoms. These can range from losing interest in activities you once enjoyed to having thoughts of self-harm. Depression is common and serious and not something to attempt to resolve via self-help only.

Additionally, depression can affect your brain physiology in some serious ways. Such changes can relate to brain size, structure, and more. Let’s insert a spoiler here: Many of those changes can be reversed when the person with depression gets prompt treatment. With all that in mind, let’s take a closer look.

 

Size Changes

Research finds that depression can cause certain areas of your brain to decrease in size. These regions include the thalamus, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. Conversely, depression can result in your amygdala getting larger if depression co-exists with anxiety. Here’s a brief review of what those areas of your brain do:

  • Thalamus: Shares information from the brain’s outer layer to the brain stem.
  • Hippocampus: Responsible for learning, navigation, memory, and space perception.
  • Prefrontal cortex: The PFC controls impulsivity, attention, and emotional reactivity.
  • Amygdala: It’s where emotion and memory are regulated.

Depending on the specifics of your case, the size changes can result in outcomes ranging from lack of empathy to poor emotional regulation.

 

Structural Differences

Neurotransmitters are the messengers of the central nervous system. Depression and anxiety tend to lower levels of important neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. It is believed that this may also contribute to decreases in brain volume. In addition, lower levels of neurotransmitters can shift the brain’s connectivity between regions. Either more or less connections can exacerbate depression symptoms. 

 

Inflammation

Depending on how long someone has been depressed, inflammation can be present in the brain. Discerning cause from effect remains unclear. Either way, brain inflammation can, in turn, cause:

  • Immune dysfunction
  • Reduced functioning of neurotransmitters
  • The death of brain cells
  • Cognitive issues

 

Restriction of Oxygen

Lots of work is being done to explore the theory that depressed breathing leads to oxygen restriction. Put simply, depression can cause changes in our breathing patterns. In turn, this has the potential to restrict oxygen intake. Lower levels of oxygen reaching the brain are known to result in: 

  • Brain cell injury or death 
  • Inflammation 
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Decrease in motor skills
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion 
  • Poor judgment

 

Getting Treatment and Reversing These Brain Changes

Research suggests that your brain can heal from most of the above effects. However, what is known is that recovery is expedited by getting help as soon as you recognize the signs of a depressive disorder. A crucial component is rejecting any of the stigmas that linger around depression and mental health.

Struggling with an emotional disorder should subsequently be viewed as having a physical illness or injury. You don’t question, doubt, or avoid someone with a sprained ankle. The same should hold for something like depression. It’s not your fault, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Talking with a therapist can go a long way toward such a mindset shift.

As for signs of depression, here are some red flags to watch for:

  • It could begin with a decrease in concentration. 
  • Physical symptoms might include unexplained aches and tension, sleep issues, and fatigue.
  • Irritability, angry outbursts, and risky behaviors are not uncommon.
  • You may find yourself eating far more or less than usual. 
  • Feelings like worthlessness, guilt, and shame are present and lead to self-isolation.
  • Thoughts of self-harm are not to be taken lightly. 

If you or someone you know is depressed, reach out as soon as possible. 

 

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