How Does Depression Affect Your Brain?

by Oct 16, 2023

Even if you’re not familiar with all of the ins and outs of depression, you probably have a general idea of what it is, as well as some of the most common signs and symptoms and even some of the common causes or factors of it. 

Someone who is struggling with depression may appear sad, extremely emotional, or fatigued. They also may have a hard time focusing on their daily tasks or seem uninterested in specific activities, even ones that were once loved by them. 

Depression can also cause someone to change their eating and sleeping habits. They may self-isolate and withdraw from friends, family, and activities that they previously enjoyed. These are just a few of the basic emotional and physical signs and symptoms of depression.

But depression doesn’t just affect different areas of your life. It can also have a negative impact internally.

Let’s learn more about how depression can affect the brain.

Brain Shrinkage

Studies have shown that there are several areas of the brain that can actually change size when depression is evident. The areas affected lose gray matter volume or GMV or the tissue in brain cells. This shrinkage occurs when the brain is flooded with too much of the cortisol hormone that is released when experiencing stress.

In turn, this can slow down or completely stop the growth of neurons in the brain. The areas most affected by depression and changing size are the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. Other areas of the brain that can change size due to depression are the caudate nucleus, insula, and the thalamus.

Brain Inflammation

While brain shrinkage is a common change in the brain with depression, brain inflammation or enlargement can also occur in certain areas of the brain. There are higher levels of translocator proteins in the brain when depression is present, which can cause or lead to brain inflammation.

The higher levels of cortisol that can cause shrinkage in the brain can also cause areas of the brain, specifically the amygdala which is responsible for your emotions, to enlarge. Research has shown that the more severe someone’s depression is, the higher their gray matter volume will be.

When there’s inflammation in the brain, it can cause difficulty in thinking patterns. Brain inflammation can also injure or kill off brain cells as well as prevent new cells from growing. Brain inflammation can also speed up the aging process in the brain.

Reduced Oxygen Levels

Depression can also cause reduced oxygen levels or hypoxia. The brain not receiving the right amount of oxygen is a severe problem that is comparable to the lungs not receiving enough oxygen. This shortage can cause changes in the brain and even injury or death of brain cells.

How These Changes Affect the Brain

When it’s not working properly, you may experience the following changes, signs, and symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Appetite changes
  • Changes in speaking patterns
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Hyperreactive
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Lack of motivation
  • Memory loss
  • Negative emotions
  • Overreacting
  • Sleeping problems

Can the Brain Heal from Depression?

Depression is a common but serious mental health condition. If you or a loved one are showing any signs or symptoms of depression, especially for a period of two weeks or longer, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.

The longer you let these signs and symptoms linger without help, worsening and additional signs and symptoms can occur. Despite your depression making you feel alone, help is available to you. We’re here to give you the help you need and deserve when you’re ready. Reach out to us today to set up an intake

Click here for more information on depression therapy.