Depression is not just a bad mood. It has the potential to alter your brain physically. This can have an impact on the way you perceive things, think, and behave. Experts are baffled as to what is behind these shifts. They believe that factors such as family history, genetics, inflammation, and stress may play a role. So what kind of physical impact can depression cause on our brain? Let us tell you.
Inflammation of the brain
Translocator proteins are found in higher concentrations in individuals with a major depressive episode. These are chemicals related to inflammation in the brain. According to studies, these proteins are also higher among people with chronic major depressive disorder lasting a decade or longer. Inflammation of the brain that isn’t under control can lead to brain cell injury or death, reduced brain cell formation, and accelerated aging of the brain.
Reduced brain size
According to new studies, the size of particular brain regions will shrink in people who suffer from depression.
- Researchers are still debating which brain regions will shrink and how much they will shrink due to depression. However, recent research has revealed that the following areas of the brain may be affected:
- frontal and prefrontal cortices
The extent to which these areas reduce in size is related to the magnitude and duration of the depressive episode.
Changes in structural and connective tissue
Structural and connective changes can be seen in the brain as a result of depression. These are some of them:
- The hippocampus becomes less functional. This can lead to memory problems.
- The prefrontal cortex’s functionality is reduced. This can make it difficult for the individual to complete tasks (executive function) and impair concentration.
- The amygdala’s functionality also becomes reduced. This has the potential to have a direct impact on mood and emotional control.
Changes usually take at least eight months to occur. After more prolonged bouts of depression, there is a risk of persistent memory loss, diminished executive function, fluctuating concentration, mood, and emotional control.
Restriction of oxygen
Reduced oxygen levels in the body have been attributed to depression. Depression-related changes in breathing may have caused such changes. In people with bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder, a cellular factor developed in response to brain hypoxia (inadequate oxygen) is elevated in particular immune cells. The brain is highly vulnerable to oxygen deprivation, which may result in:
a) Brain cell damage due to inflammation
b) Death of brain cells
Now that you know all the effects depression can have on your brain, you may wonder about the cure for depression. Inflammation and cell death may cause various symptoms related to memory, mood, and development—mild hypoxia, such as that experienced by high-altitude hikers, and depression. Curing depression can sometimes be a long and tiring process. However, with adequate support and courage, you can get through it.
Here are some measures that you can use:
Reach out to others
It’s essential to be able to seek help when you need it. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with mental disorders is a significant barrier to seeking treatment, especially among men. As we’ve seen, understanding that depression is a physical illness will help society move away from these stigmas. It is best if you go to a licensed mental health professional. However, if you feel it is easier to reach out to a close one first, go to them and let them listen to all you are going through. Let trusted ones around you help you.
Due to the pandemic, many online mental health service providers are available 24 hours a day. You can reach out to them if you would like treatment in the comfort of your own home.
Manage your stress
Stress is a significant contributing factor to depressive episodes. There are some measures that you can use to lessen your stress levels. These include breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation. If you can afford it, taking out some ‘me time’ is crucial. Understand that your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Stop everything and look after your health if you must, for it should always be your top priority.
Take your medications on time.
If you’re going through a depressive episode, prescribed medications will help you avoid the physical changes that come with it. They can help cope with the physical side effects as well as psychological symptoms. Make sure that you do not self-medicate since it can have distressing after-impact. Always use medications that have been prescribed to you by your psychiatrist. Psychotherapy and antidepressants can be beneficial in combating physical changes and assisting you in coping with the symptoms.