How Does Depression Affect the Brain

Today, let’s learn how does depression affect the brain!

For decades now, the brain has been a topic of interest for people of all ages. From getting impressed by the ability of a brain to analyze and understand any task to finishing it, it takes a huge, complex network of neurons to facilitate the functioning of a healthy brain.1

What is a healthy brain?

A healthy brain comprises a well-fueled system of organs such as the cerebellum, cerebral cortex, Amygdala, Hippocampus, Hypothalamus, Thalamus, Pituitary Gland, Pineal Gland, and midbrain that hold together the successful operation of all the functions taken up by the brain.

Isn’t it fascinating how one small part of our body is in charge of such big decisions in our lives and is responsible for some essential functions in our body?

And even the smallest dysfunctions in these complexly connected neurotransmitters 2could lead to numerous afflictions on the healthy functioning of our brains.

A healthy brain in a person refers to a person’s physical state that enables them to analyze their capacities and optimize their psychomotor, psychological, physiological, and emotional responses to subsist with their life affairs in an organized manner.

The inability to perceive any part of the characteristics leading to a healthy brain and the incapacity of an individual to glide through their life scenarios can easily detect various brain health conditions.

Brain health conditions keep appearing throughout the lifespan of an individual. They can lead to the detection of subsidiary health issues that might manifest themselves into more damaging diseases if left unrecognized and untreated. One such health condition is depression.

Before going to know about how does depression affect the brain, first know what is depression.3

What is depression?

What is Depression?

Depression is a very common brain health condition that influences an individual’s thought processes and leads to the individual having negative emotions. The Global Health Data Exchange estimates that 251-310 million people worldwide suffer from mild or clinical depression.4

And according to a WHO-affiliated study, “Clinical depression affects about 1 in 15 adults in any given year, and 1 in 6 people will experience severe depression at some point in their life.”

Whereas an Our World In Data study estimates that about 3.4% (2–6% when including the margin of error) of the global population has depression, about 264 million people worldwide.

We all feel under the weather sometimes, not being able to work consistently throughout the day because of exertion, but depression is way more than just feeling upset and tired once in a while for a few days.

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a trough in the mood graph of an individual for an endless amount of time, gradually causing disruptions in their daily life situations.

What happens to a person undergoing depression?

Behavior Changes During Depression

Depression is a mental health issue that, if persisted, can lead to substantial distress. It can affect the way an individual thinks, perceives, and understands various emotions and other items of value in their lives.

Changes in how your brain functions can also lead to other physical health disruptions. It affects not only your thinking ability but also your immune system.

Depression in an individual could cause a wide range of physical issues in their lives, such as weight gain and low immunity. It may affect everything from breathing and heart to your appetite and metabolism.

Not only does it cause physical symptoms, but it may increase the risk of certain ailments or might worsen a few others. It can also trigger a few other diseases in an individual.

Unrecognized or ignored clinical depression may increase the prospects of tricky behavior. It can cause damage to a person’s home life, break relationships, cause trouble at work, and make it difficult to get over other serious ailments. It could lead to addiction to drugs and alcohol in an individual.

Individuals Sustaining clinical depression may not reclaim their feelings of hopelessness and sadness as easily due to this change that their brain goes through.

Symptoms of Depression

Physical Symptoms of Depression

The following are some of the most common depression symptoms and signs:

  • Feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness that don’t go away.
  • Loss of enthusiasm for tasks that you used to enjoy.
  • Causes sleep disturbances or sleeping too much.
  • Gaining or losing weight.
  • Extreme exhaustion.
  • Anxiety, restlessness, frustration, or irritation are all symptoms of anxiety.
  • Feelings of inadequacy, remorse, or shame.
  • Have difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things.
  • Avoid other people, even close friends.
  • Find it difficult to function at work, college, or school.
  • Suicide and death thoughts

Decades of studies on the brain and brain health conditions leading to the current fad of awareness amongst people worldwide brings us opportunities to better deal with the symptoms of an individual’s digressing mental health and help them overcome it to lead their lives better, free from any mental suffering.

While depression has become common in today’s society, it is fortunately treatable.

For a long time now, researchers and psychologists have been focused on the brain and how it is affected by mental health issues such as depression.

To understand how the disease develops and progresses, develop the kind of therapies required to calm and treat such health issues or develop long-term treatments and medication plans based on the kinds of changes that adhere to the brain due to any long-term brain health issue.

We now have a little idea of what depression may feel or look like on an outside appearance level, we can now discuss further “How Does Depression Affect the Brain”.

How Does Depression Affect the Brain?

How Depression Affects The Brain - Yale Medicine Explains

How does depression affect the brain5? A very common and most frequently asked question. Everyone wants to know about it in detail. So here is the all detail!

Depression may cause various symptoms within the central nervous system of the brain, which could cause memory loss, headaches, chronic body aches, irritability, anger, and insomnia, all of which may or may not be related to the brain undergoing some changes.

No one has reported the specific reason that triggers severe depression. Still, it has been found through various studies over time that depression is caused by the influence of the brain’s biological structure and chemicals in any way that leads to depression.

Researchers and doctors at Yale Medicine found two chemical messengers, which include glutamate and GABA, between the nerve cells in the higher brain centers involved in regulating mood and emotion, noting that these may be alternative causes for the symptoms of depression.6

These two are the brain’s most common neurotransmitters. They are responsible for the changes and developments of the brain over time.

When any person undergoes stress or anxiety, some connections between the nerve cells break apart.

As a result, communication between the affected cells becomes “noisy.” And it’s this noise, along with the overall loss of connections, is believed to contribute to the biology of depression. “

Brain Size

Ever since there have been studies about the change in the brain’s functioning due to depression, debates about the change in the size of the brain cells have been inevitable.

And studies over time have brought into light that the size of the brain of an individual going through major depression decreases, although which regions of the brain shrink and how much they shrink remain a topic of discussion in various laboratories.

  • Hippocampus

It plays an important role in learning and memory and also helps in regulating emotions and stress hormones. When depression starts to affect the chemical balance in the hippocampus, it leads to the shrinkage of neurons in the brain, which in turn causes trouble with concentration and memory and further leads to brain shrinkage.

  • Amygdala

The amygdala regulates emotion and memory; due to Major depression, the inrush of hormone cortisol causes the amygdala to enlarge. It also causes sleep disturbances due to the enlargement of the amygdala.

  • Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex gives cognitive functions and manages impulse control, attention, and emotional reactions. It gets smaller in size.

  • Thalamus

The thalamus promotes data from the cerebral cortex to the brain stem and modulates sleep, alertness, and wakefulness.

Shrunken thalamus causes the sleep patterns to disrupt, leading to a poor appetite and well-being.

Brain Inflammation

Explaining 'The Inflamed Mind: a radical new approach to depression'

Researchers have been looking into forming links between brain inflammation and depression. It’s not clear if brain inflammation causes depression or vice versa.

Still, studies have shown continuously the presence of a level of inflammation in the brain in connection with the amount of time depression persists.

Inflammation due to high volumes of brain chemicals such as cortisol and other stress hormones, which lead to enlargement of the amygdala, causes distorted sleeping patterns, self-blame, panic and anxiety in people, and risky behavior such as restlessness and guilt.

The overall functioning of the brain and the brain cells slows down, a person’s thinking and analyzing power becomes slow, and the individual might feel fatigued. They move slowly and become extremely dull.

Uncontrolled brain inflammation can:

  • This causes intellectual issues and hampers the thinking and analyzing processes.
  • Prevents new neuron cells from growing.
  • It kills or even stops the functioning of brain cells, leading to brain cell death.
  • This speeds up brain aging and leads to the loss of Gray matter volume.
  • It can worsen depression and influence the neurotransmitters to impact mood negatively. It hampers memory and learning.

Hypoxia Or Reduced Air

It is due to the inadequate amounts of oxygen reaching the brain circuits due to panicked breathing or rushed breathing for the proper functioning of the brain. It could lead to inflammation, injury, or even the death of brain cells. Caused by major depression, anxiety, or panic attacks.

Minor symptoms of hypoxia include poor judgment, inattentiveness, temporary memory loss, and trouble moving parts of the body. Significant symptoms of hypoxia include coma, seizures, and brain death.

Might Elevate other Diseases/Issues

Clinical depression may act as a trigger for other diseases. It could lead to worsening the symptoms of some diseases.

Depression affects an individual’s immune system, which dysregulates the health of an individual, causing minor issues to become more heightened.

Structural difference

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels 

The central nervous system relies on neurotransmitters to promote messages between the neurons and other portions of the cells within the brain and body.

The three main types of neurotransmitters are excitatory, inhibitory, and modulatory.

These neurotransmitters possess control of everything from thinking to eating. Some of these neurotransmitters are analogous to depression, and they are serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Research suggests that in a person with ongoing depression, the balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters is abnormal.

The imbalance between this excitatory neurotransmitter and inhibitory neurotransmitters is accountable for reducing the content of the brain form that occurs during depression.

These are the various ways in which depression affects the brain regions. There is a visible difference between a healthy brain and a depressed brain, not just psychologically and physiologically but also physically and in comparison of size and volume.

But the most fascinating thing is that when you get good, effective treatment for your brain, it goes back to looking like a healthy brain.

Once you know how does depression affect the brain, the next important thing is to be aware of the treatments for depression.

How to Get Help for Depression

# Psychotherapy

What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is an effective way to treat depression. Cognitive therapy, especially approaches that incorporate stress-relieving mindfulness techniques, can be a great source of support and help you overcome emotional responses and stigmas about mental health.

# Antidepressants

Combining psychotherapy and antidepressants can help you combat physical changes and cope with depressive symptoms simultaneously.

However, you must get professional advice before opting for this to be a feasible way to control stress.

# Exercise

Exercise can alleviate depression. Physical exercise can benefit both psychological symptoms and brain function. The best forms of exercise are aerobic, resistance, and mind-body exercises.

# Reduce Stress

There’s a lot of evidence that psychological stress and stressful life events play a role in the onset of a bout of depressive episodes in cases of depression. It can feel hard or frightening to try to cope with stress in your life.

There are, however, some quick and straightforward modifications you may do to assist you with anxiety disorders and help you in relieving the effects of depression, such as laughing or playing with a pet. Even paint therapy and writing helps.

Well, this is all we have on ‘how does depression affect the brain’ and how you can get help for depression.

Depression is a serious condition, that needs attention. So, if you know someone who needs help, give them all the help you can.

Read more from us here.

  1. Vasile, Flora, Elena Dossi, and Nathalie Rouach. “Human astrocytes: structure and functions in the healthy brain.” Brain Structure and Function 222.5 (2017): 2017-2029. ↩︎
  2. Qiu, Yihua, Yuping Peng, and Jianhe Wang. “Immunoregulatory role of neurotransmitters.” Advances in neuroimmunology 6.3 (1996): 223-231. ↩︎
  3. Altar, C. Anthony. “Neurotrophins and depression.” Trends in pharmacological sciences 20.2 (1999): 59-62. ↩︎
  4. Craft, Lynette L., and Daniel M. Landers. “The effect of exercise on clinical depression and depression resulting from mental illness: A meta-analysis.” Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology 20.4 (1998): 339-357. ↩︎
  5. Han, Kyu-Man, and Byung-Joo Ham. “How inflammation affects the brain in depression: a review of functional and structural MRI studies.” Journal of clinical neurology (Seoul, Korea) 17.4 (2021): 503. ↩︎
  6. Sobin, Christina, and Harold A. Sackeim. “Psychomotor symptoms of depression.” American Journal of Psychiatry 154.1 (1997): 4-17. ↩︎

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Aditi Pandey

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