How Depression Affects the Brain

How-Depression-Affects-the-Brain

There is a lot of attention paid to how depression affects your emotions, but not enough attention is paid to how depression affects your brain. feels in your brain. The mental effects of depression can be just as devastating as the physical or the emotional ones.

It is estimated by experts that up to 16.2 million adults suffer from depression. 

While people who suffer from depression report psychological differences, they may be unaware of how depression affects the brain physically.

Depression can affect the physical structures of the brain. These changes may include brain shrinkage, inflammation, and oxygen loss. They happen because the brain is the control center of your central nervous system.

There are new studies emerging about how depression affects the brain. Here are some of the most important, recent findings.


How Depression Affects the Brain: It Causes Inflammation

How depression affects the brain varies from person to person; however, it often causes inflammation. There are quite a few recent research findings that find a connection between depression and inflammation - and, not just in the brain.

Inflammation in the brain is most often linked to the length of time that a person has suffered from depression. 

Chronic depression and long-term depression have been shown to drastically impact inflammation in the brain. People who suffer from depression for a decade typically show around a 25% increase in brain inflammation compared to those without depression.

How depression affects the brain can be serious since inflammation in the brain often leads to other issues in the brain, such as a loss of neuroplasticity (the natural ability of the brain to change) and decreased neurotransmitter function (the natural ability of your brain to communicate).

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How Depression Affects the Brain: Loss of Oxygen

Loss of oxygen is another effect of how depression affects the brain. 

In fact, like inflammation, oxygen loss related to depression can affect your whole body, not just the brain.

It is unclear why this happens. 

Although, many researchers speculate that it might not be how depression affects the brain, but how depression affects your breathing. People who are depressed may take more shallow breaths, leading to loss of oxygen in the brain and the rest of the body.

Lack of oxygen to the brain is called hypoxia which can affect the health of your brain cells, or lead to brain cell injury. Hypoxia has been connected to several mental illnesses other than depression, including bipolar disorder.

The outward signs of hypoxia are mental confusion and short-term memory loss.

Fortunately, taking deep breaths can alleviate this. Other activities which focus on breathing like yoga or meditation can also be useful in combating hypoxia. 


How Depression Affects the Brain: It Can Shrink

How depression affects the brain can also be physical. 

Research has shown that people who experience depression have smaller regions in their brain than those who do not. 

This means that your brain can shrink in actual size. The full effects of such shrinkage is unknown.

However, the latest research has pinpointed a few parts of the brain which are affected by depression

The parts of the brain that might shrink due to depression include, 

  • the hippocampus which controls memory and learning; 
  • the amygdala which governs our strong emotions like fear and pleasure;
  • the frontal lobe which controls our behavior;
  • the prefrontal cortices which govern our personality; 
  • our decision making; 
  • and moderates our social behavior.

The devastating effect of how depression affects the brain means that when these parts of the brain shrink, so do the abilities associated with that part.

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How Depression Affects the Brain: Cognitive Function

How depression affects the brain manifests most clearly in how well it functions. 

In addition to the physical effects described above, the negative effects of depression on the brain can decrease its ability to function.

This means that how depression affects the brain can result in persistent dysfunction in attention, mood, memory, executive function, emotional regulation, and more. 

Your ability to pay attention to tasks or get things done may be affected by the experience of depression. 


How Depression Affects the Brain: According to Age

These effects could trickle down to your ability to function properly as they directly impact things like memory, mood, ability to learn, and ongoing brain development. 

This can be especially devastating to people who are young enough that their brains are actively developing. 

Neuroscientists believe that the brain does not become fully developed until around age 25. 

This means that people who develop depression before that age may see long-term damage because of how depression affects the brain.

Although depression affects the brain when suffered after being fully developed can lead to cognitive decline. Particularly, in older people who have suffered from depression for decades: the loss of neuroplasticity can lead to dementia or other forms of age-related mental decline.

Depression's effects on the brain - no matter what your age - can manifest in symptoms like memory loss, mood disorders or unstable moods, and learning disabilities. 


Conclusion

How depression affects the brain can be very serious. 

If you think you're struggling with depression, it's important to get the help you need. 

Getting treatment is the best way to avoid any long term-damage because of how depression affects the brain.


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December 7th, 2022

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