If you stub your big toe, it’s obvious the injury can affect your mobility. But if you’re depressed, what’s the effect? Like other kinds of illness, depression can result in seen and unseen effects – including how your brain functions. If left alone, depression can affect your brain in unimaginable ways.
What is Depression?
“Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and at home.” Fortunately, its symptoms can often be treated.
What are the Causes?
There is no single cause for depression, but it may be triggered by:
- Differences in neurotransmitters in the brain, which can boost symptoms of depression.
- Your genetic make-up, meaning depression, can run in families. Thus, if you have an identical twin with depression, you have a 70 percent chance of getting it sometime in your lifetime.
- Your personality traits, including low self-esteem, high pessimism, and being easily overwhelmed by stress.
- The environment you grew up in.
Know the Symptoms
Depression is presented by various symptoms, and they differ per person. However, most people who have it experience changes in how they function daily, and normally for longer than two weeks, depending on the depressive disorder they’re suffering from. Familiar symptoms include:
- Variations in sleep
- Changes in hunger
- Poor concentration
- Low energy
- Loss of interest in activities
- Guilty thoughts or hopelessness
- Fluctuations in movement (fewer activities or agitation)
- Physical aches and discomfort
- Suicidal thoughts
Who Does it Affect?
Depression affects more than 16 million U.S. adults and nearly 300 people worldwide:
- In 2019, 2.8% of adults experienced severe depression symptoms.
- It happens most often among people aged 18–29 (21 percent), followed by people aged 45–64 (18.4 percent) and over 65 (18.4 percent), and finally, by people aged 30–44 (16.8 percent).
- More women than men get depression.
- Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, and non-Hispanic black adults get depression more than non-Hispanic Asian adults.
How Does Depression Affect the Brain?
There is a link between depression and the brains of people who have it. A key component in how people process emotions, thoughts, and pain perception depends on how well neurotransmitters in the brain function. Research shows there are physical differences in brain structures in people who are depressed compared to people who aren’t. Other studies document how depression affects the brain, and here are a number to consider.
- Depression shrinks certain regions of the brain critical to moods. This includes the hippocampus, thalamus, amygdala, frontal, and prefrontal cortices. When any of these sections shrink, the functions linked to each region are altered accordingly.
- Brain inflammation increases the longer someone has been depressed. For instance, a study in the Lancet showed that someone depressed for greater than ten years displayed 30 percent more inflammation compared to someone depressed for less time.
- If you’re depressed, studies show that the flow of oxygen throughout your body, including in your brain, is restricted. If your brain experiences a reduction in oxygen, it’s possible that severe damage could result – including brain cell death, brain cell injury, and inflammation.
- There also can be connectivity and structural issues, such as problems with the hippocampus resulting in memory loss; problems with the prefrontal cortex, leading to loss of attentiveness and getting things done; and problems with the amygdala, which affects moods and emotions.
Many symptoms related to depression and other mental and physical health problems can be treated with different kinds of therapy or medicine like ketamine.
Diagnosing & Treating Depression
A successful diagnosis of depression often depends on:
- A physical exam by a doctor, including blood and other tests, to confirm or rule out a medical cause for symptoms.
- A psychiatric evaluation by a mental health specialist focuses on thoughts, behavior, and emotions, as well as personal and family history of mental illness.
- Comparing depression symptoms to depression criteria published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Upon final diagnosis, your healthcare provider may recommend different treatments for depressive symptoms, including psychotherapy, self-help, antidepressants, alternative medicine, or ketamine infusion.
Depression symptoms can seriously affect your mental and physical wellbeing if they’re ignored. If you experience depression for months at a time and it affects your life, we may be able to help you find relief. Contact us today to learn more.