Sometimes it can seem like depression is a purely emotional condition that only affects your mood and emotions. However, those who suffer from it can also experience physical and chemical changes in the brain. This affects not only their mental health but also the rest of the body. Depression affects the brain is no exception.
This is a bigger global problem than many may think. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. On average, around 800,000 people commit suicide each year due to depression. This is also the leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 29.
Depression is not just a temporary emotional change. The changes it causes in the brain make it very difficult to control. Precisely because of this, it is important to recognize and treat it with a professional instead of believing that one is in a bad mood and that it will go away on its own.
How does depression affect the brain physically?
Depression directly affects three parts of your brain: the hippocampus, the tonsilla cerebelli , the den and the prefrontal cortex. Furthermore, we will explain these three parts in more detail.
1. The hippocampus shrinks
The hippocampus is in the central part of the brain. It is responsible for storing memories and regulating the production of cortisol, which is the stress and happiness hormone.
When you suffer from physical or mental stress, including depression, your body releases cortisol to try to relieve the effects of stress. However, when cortisol levels are very high, it causes a chemical imbalance. Then the neuron production decreases, and the hippocampus shrinks.
2. The prefrontal cortex shrinks
The prefrontal cortex, located in the anterior part of the brain, is responsible for regulating emotions and creating memories.
The prefrontal cortex can also shrink with too much cortisol. In fact, specialists believe that this is what causes postpartum depression in some women (postpartum depression).
Inflammation of the tonsilla cerebelli
The tonsilla cerebelli is located in the temporal lobe, the lower part of the brain. It regulates emotions such as joy, happiness and fear, among others.
However, too much cortisol can make it inflamed, thus making it more active. Furthermore , this causes sleep problems and abnormal behavior patterns. When it is more active, it also causes other parts of the body to release more hormones than normal, which can lead to other health complications.
4. Lack of oxygenation
In addition to the way depression physically affects your brain, it also causes indirect changes.
Studies show that the body is less oxygenated during periods of depression. However, we do not know if it is due to changes in one’s breathing pattern or something else.
This reduction in oxygen affects cells throughout the body. Especially brain cells can be damaged or die.
How Do Depression Affect Your Brain On Your Overall Health?
These changes in your brain do not happen immediately. However, they are a product of depression. Studies suggest that it takes approximately 8 to 10 months for the hypothalamus and prefrontal cortex to shrink.
Dr. Thomas Frodl, a researcher at Magdeburg Hospital in Germany, followed up patients with depression for three years. He saw that physical changes in the brain increase over time.
Some of the ways depression affects your brain are as follows:
- Memory loss
- Impaired neurotransmitter function
- Stagnant brain development
- Impaired learning ability
- Cognitive problems
- Concentration problems
- Mood swings
- Lack of empathy for others
- Sleep problems
Depression affects your brain: How to treat it?
Scientific studies suggest that the chemical imbalance caused by too much cortisol and other chemicals is the main cause of emotional problems and physical changes in the brain.
Therefore, the goal of the treatments is to regulate hormone production. For example, they help regulate cortisol and serotonin levels. In addition , you can do this with medication and / or therapy. Therapy is highly recommended even if you are already on medication.
Research shows that therapy helps to change the structure of the brain. In addition, it helps fight the symptoms of depression. Therefore, it is important to seek professional help if you think you are suffering from depression.
There are also things people with depression can do on their own to improve brain function and fight depression.
- Control your stress level.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat healthy food.
- Sleep well.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
In short, depression is a disorder that goes beyond just mood swings. Even if you cannot see it with the naked eye, the brain undergoes physical changes that disrupt a person’s general well-being.