Mental illness, despite being so rampant is often overlooked. Millions of people commit suicide daily due to some form of mental illness, the most common one being depression. It’s a real illness that has a huge negative impact on one’s well-being.
Although the psychological and even physical impacts of depression are often discussed, did you know that depression has a huge impact on the brain? Not just from a psychological point of view. A person’s brain changes, some areas even shrink physically which result in different behaviors typically expected from an affected person. To summarize, depression can be deadly as it can effectively disrupt your nervous system. Here’s how the brain’s affected by depression:
Although it’s not clear as to whether depression causes inflammation, the latter is linked to the former nevertheless. It’s been found that the more time a person stays depressed, the more likely they are to have brain inflammation. One study even found that people who were depressed for over 10 years had 30% more brain inflammation than those who were depressed for a lesser time.
Therefore, there is a positive correlation between the amount of time one stays depressed and brain inflammation. Inflammation itself is a huge problem. If an affected person has increased brain inflammation, their brain cells start to die. This, by itself, is very bad but it leads to other issues such as brain shrinking, decreased function of neurotransmitters, and the reduced ability of the brain to change over time.
Along with brain cells dying, the person has to then deal with issues brought about by the other conditions described above, living a regular life becomes even harder. When all four things above are combined, it leads to memory loss, mood swings, reduced brain development, and reduced learning ability.
Due to the different way a person suffering from depression breathes, there are chances for reduced oxygen making it into the brain. There is also evidence to back it up as well as depression is linked to oxygen restriction. This can become a serious issue, even for living a regular day-to-day life.
When the brain does not get oxygen, a cellular factor is produced as a response. High levels of this factor are observed in the immune cells of people suffering from depression. Apart from other issues, reduced oxygen to the brain itself has some serious consequences. Everything is linked in a way, so reduced oxygen can cause brain inflammation, which as discussed above has it’s own issues associated with it.
Moreover, if the brain keeps on receiving less oxygen for a prolonged time, it can lead to brain cell injury or even brain cell death. Thus, even if one doesn’t have brain inflammation, reduced oxygen will eventually produce the same results. Apart from the effects of inflammation, one can also feel confused all the time. The feeling of confusion is similar to the feeling you get at a high altitude which is naturally low in oxygen.
Considering one has to experience this every day due to their illness, it’s not healthy nor does it make their life any easier. One should consider getting treatment as soon as possible. Treatments such as hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatments help improve the flow of oxygen in the body and they can also reduce the symptoms of depression amongst people.
There is significant research out there to suggest that certain areas of the brain can shrink over time for those suffering from depression. Although it’s not a 100% which region is affected the most by depression, it is still a fact that these regions are in some shape or form affected by depression. Shrinkage of these regions can lead to long-lasting effects that can even get in the way of living.
The parts affected are the hippocampus, thalamus, amygdala, frontal, and the prefrontal cortices. The amount each shrinks by depends on the length of the depressive period. The length of a specific period is being mentioned because if one does start feeling better, the process of shrinkage stops or can even be reversed.
Shrinking is bad because whenever a certain area or region of the brain shrinks, so does its capacity to do its job. The more it shrinks, the worse it gets at doing its job. For example, people with depression may have reduced empathy, there’s a reason.
The prefrontal cortex and amygdala are responsible for controlling our emotional responses and also to recognize other people’s emotions. If the brain’s ability in that regard is reduced, then a person can be labeled as less empathetic. It’s common in people suffering from postpartum depression. Learning is affected, so is the mood. Everything is connected with depression and its effects on the brain.
As you might have noticed, most of these things affect a few key areas. If one suffers from depression, any one of these changes to the brain can occur or more causing a lot of problems.
Structural and Connective changes
Some structural changes can also occur due to depression. For example, the functionality of the hippocampus is reduced which leads to memory loss or bad short or long-term memory or even both. The prefrontal cortex is also affected. As discussed earlier, it can lead to a person being less empathetic. Not only that, but it can also affect their attention span and their ability to get things done.
Depression is also related to a reduced function of the amygdala, which can affect mood and emotions. If a person suffers from depression long enough, more than perhaps 8 months, then these structural and connective changes start taking place. Once these changes start taking place, others start making their way too.
The structural and connective changes go hand in hand with brain shrinkage. All these areas over time start to shrink as well which leads to their reduced functionality. Then, a person can develop brain inflammation or reduced oxygen as well. Overall, it seriously affects a person’s mental state and physical as well as even everyday life becomes a challenge.
What should I do?
Depression can really mess up a person’s life, and as explained above, their brain too over time. If you know anyone who’s suffering from any sort of mental illness, then do not hesitate to call 911 or any emergency number in your country. If you can, stay with the person until help arrives and he/she is surrounded by professionals who know what to do.
If you are suffering from depression, know that you are not alone. There is a lot of stigma around mental illness which is unfortunate. However, reach out. There is always someone willing to help. Cognitive and group therapies can help relieve stress and find the much-needed support you need. Exercise is also a great stress reliever alongside a balanced diet.
If the case is severe, consider taking anti-depressants. They can help reduce the symptoms and relieve some of the physical and psychological toll depression takes on a person. Therapy and anti-depressants combined can be effective in fighting depression.
Always try to reduce your stress. If there are multiple things around you that stress you out, try to slowly eliminate them. Stress is known to be bad and is a contributing factor towards depression. It’s not easy, but it needs to be done. There is medication out there too to avoid stress. Indulge in something you like, pick up a hobby, like watching movies or playing games. Find someone to talk to, all of these help in reducing stress.
At the end of the day, remember you are NOT alone. There is always someone ready to listen. Consider calling an emergency number like 911 or the NAMI helpline. The biggest hurdle is asking for help, once you do that, it gets much easier. Don’t give up.