What Does Depression Do to Your Brain?

what does depression do to your brain in leander texas

What Does Depression Do to Your Brain?

When people think about depression, the first things that come to mind are emotions and feelings – or even the absence of either. To comprehend depression, it’s critical to understand that the condition also has physical consequences. Most people see depression from the outside, understanding that it can affect a person’s behavior and physical wellness. Still, medical and scientific understanding of how it progresses and the most effective treatment options continue to evolve. 

As part of that journey, there is a new focus on depression at the chemical level and how it affects neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters like glutamate are chemical messengers responsible for carrying signals between cells – signals which have a crucial role in mood and emotional regulation, among other biological functions.

The Brain and Depression

To understand what depression does to your brain, it’s essential to learn as much about the condition as possible. Let’s begin with some basic facts.

  • There isn’t a single, definitive cause for depression. Like other mental illnesses, there are a variety of factors that can influence its development. There could be physical and biological differences in the brain compared to someone who’s not depressed. Faulty brain chemistry involving neurotransmitters is another possibility. But hormones – especially in women before, during, and after pregnancy – and inherited traits are another possibility.
  • Depression is one of the leading sources of disability worldwide and affects more than 300 million people. In the United States, it’s estimated that 21 million adults have depression symptoms each year. Sadly, children under 18 – about 4 million – aren’t immune to depression, either. It can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, national origin, or other socioeconomic indicators.
  • Depression extracts a substantial economic cost, estimated to be more than $200 billion a year. This equates to the loss of income, productivity, and other measurements of its financial consequences on individuals and the nation.

What depression does to your brain

If left untreated, depression can lead to severe harm to your brain, especially if you have long-term, repeat episodes of sadness, mood swings, and other common symptoms and side effects. As such, depression can affect certain areas of your brain, leading to problems with cognition, relationships, and completing daily tasks.

Ground zero for our emotions is the brain, not the heart, as has been popularized for thousands of years. According to experts at Harvard Medical School, “certain areas of the brain help regulate mood.” It’s also believed that nerve cell connections, how nerve cells grow, and how nerve circuits work, “have a major impact on depression.”

So, which areas of the brain are most affected by depression?

  • The amygdala is included in structures deep inside your brain that are mostly linked to emotions like anger, fear, pleasure, sorrow, and physical intimacy. By remembering an emotionally charged event, like getting scared at a haunted house on Halloween, your amygdala kicks into gear. And it functions at a higher level, with more activity, when you’re sad or clinically depressed. Unfortunately, this persists even after you’ve recovered from depression. Such activity may cause the amygdala to get bigger.
  • The basal ganglia are other structures rooted deeply in the brain. They’re linked to and interact with other structures closer to the brain’s top layer. They help with physical movement and are critical for memorization, thinking, and emotional processing. Some studies have uncovered shrinkage and other structural variations in the basal ganglia of people with depression.
  • The hippocampus is also affected by depression. It has a key role in how long-term memories are processed, and tag-teams with the amygdala on feelings of suspicion about certain situations. This region of the brain is where fear is registered. For example, if you’re antagonized by a growling, aggressive animal as a youth, the memory of that experience could make you cautious of dogs later in life. Research shows the hippocampus to be smaller in some people who’re depressed, and that ongoing contact with stress hormones damages neuron growth in this brain region.

Diagnosing depression normally involves:

  • A physical examination to see if there’s a medical reason for your condition. If something is discovered, it can possibly be treated.
  • A psychiatric assessment to see if your attitude, behavior, and emotions trigger depression. It’s possible that personal or family history of mental illness has influenced your condition.
  • Comparing symptoms to accepted criteria.

Depending on your health and other factors, your symptoms may be treatable, including with medicine like ketamine.

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