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What Happens in Your Brain During Depression?

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What does Depression Look Like?

Depression is a serious mental condition affecting the individual’s mood, feelings, thoughts and well being. There are several effects of depression on the brain. For example, your patterns of appetite and sleep. They would be unable to experience in pleasure in any activities and would possess a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. These are all the observable changes in an individual with clinical depression. These changes are are just some ways how depression affects the brain.  

While some people experience just a single episode of depression, some others experience several episodes of depression. This type of chronic depression can hamper your daily functions such as school, work, or even maintaining relationships. Apart from mood and behaviour, they affect physical aspects such as sleep and appetite.

It is also possible that they have suicidal thoughts or ideations and also there could be few attempts at suicide in few cases. There few changes that the brain undergoes in terms of structural and functional alterations which is basically due to the chemical imbalances in the brain.

Although the causes of depression are not known, there are several factors that contribute to increasing the risk of depression:

  • Genes – Studies reveal that people with a family history of depression are more likely to develop the illness.
  • Stress – Stress can come from many sources such as traumatic life events like a divorce or a death.
  • Biochemical Reactions – The chemical reactions in the brains of people with depression are different from those of people who don’t have depression.
  • Hormones – Depression may also arise in some people with hormonal imbalances, especially during menopause or pregnancy.

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Does Depression Damage Your Brain?

Depression mostly affects three parts of the brain – the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. The hippocampus, located in the centre of the brain, is responsible for storing memories and creating cortisol, a hormone released during periods of mental and emotional stress as well as during depression. When excessive amounts of cortisol gets sent to the brain, it can cause problems including memory loss.

The prefrontal cortex is located in the front part of the brain and performs the function of regulating emotions and helping to form memories. In the situation where excessive cortisol is produced, the prefrontal cortex starts shrinking.

The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for producing emotions such as pleasure and fear. With excess cortisol, the amygdala expands and also becomes more active, causing problems in sleep patterns.

As per studies, cortisol is believed to create structural and functional alterations in the brain. To understand what happens in the brain during depression, let’s understand the two alterations in detail.

Structural Alteration:

Shrinkage in the certain parts of the brain- The brain regions namely hippocampus and the frontal lobe shrank among those individuals who had suffered from depression for years together.

  • Hippocampus is a part of the limbic system of the brain which is responsible for the processing the new memories in the brain for the long-term storage.
  • The frontal lobe is associated with managing the emotional reactions, focusing attention, problem-solving, judgment making and many others.

Functional Alterations:

  • Increased activity in the amygdala region of the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system is associated with the regulation of emotions like sorrow, fear, anger, and pleasure.
  • There are decreased levels of mood-related chemicals namely serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the synaptic region of the neurons.

One of the possible causes for the decrease in the levels of key neurotransmitters mentioned above is because of the enzyme activity of the monoamine oxidase which breaks those chemicals.

Effects of Depression on the Brain

Loss of serotonin and dopamines takes place at different rates among the depressed individuals. This would result in the variation in the nature, pattern, and severity of the symptoms of the brain during the depression.

  • Serotonin– Responsible for inhibiting pain and in the regulation of sleep, appetite, and mood. There is a connection between serotonin and depression in the sense that low levels of serotonin lead to higher risks for suicide.
  • Dopamine– Responsible for motivation, movement, and perception of reality. Any problem in the transmission of dopamine in the brain in its transmission would probably result in depression associated with psychosis and/or substance abuse.
  • Norepinephrine– This norepinephrine hormone helps in recognizing and responding to the stressful events and situations of life. Those with depression, may not have proper release and transmission of the neurotransmitter. This would result in an inability to handle stress effectively.
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How Treatment of Depression Can Change the Brain

As per studies, balancing the amount of cortisol in the brain can prevent the hippocampus from shrinking and creating any memory problems.

Some of the medications that help in balancing the chemicals in the brain are:

  • Selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) :These change the serotonin levels in the brain and help reduce the symptoms of depression. For example, fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and citalopram (Celexa).
  • Norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs): These drugs increase the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine. For example, Bupropion (Wellbutrin).
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): These drugs increase the levels of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine in the brain which helps in increasing the brain cell communication.
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants: Taken together, these can alter the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain which can help in boosting mood and energy levels. For example, duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor XR) are examples of SNRIs whereas imipramine (Tofranil) and trimipramine (Surmontil) are examples of tricyclic antidepressants.
  • Atypical antidepressants: These include tranquilisers, mood stabilisers, and antipsychotics which help to block brain cell communication and reduce stress in the body.

Though there are certain changes that take place in the brain in terms of chemical imbalances, it requires diagnostic tests to determine the same. But these chemical changes which take place are sufficient enough to diagnose the condition. Further, the causes for the changes in the brain if found specifically, then the prevention and/or treatment would become easy.

Visit Cadabam’s to know more about the Brain during Depression,  signs and symptoms of depression and get the right treatment. Feel free to call @+91 96111 94949.

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