How Does Depression Affect The Brain?

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What is depression?

Depression is a mental health condition that can lead to much emotional anguish.  It is a complex disorder, involving many systems of the body, including the immune system, either as cause or effect. It disrupts sleep and interferes with appetite, in some cases causing weight loss, in others weight gain. Because of its complexity, a full understanding of depression has been elusive.

Depression is often accompanied by physical symptoms; to be diagnosed with depression a person must have five symptoms present within the same 2-week period. Some of them being:

  • The depressed mood on most days, including feelings of sadness or emptiness.
  • Loss of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Too much or too little sleep most days.
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions.
  • Unintended weight loss or gain or changes in appetite.
  • Fatigue.
  • Feeling worthless or guilty.
  • Recurring unpleasant thoughts, particularly about being guilty, being a bad and unworthy person,
  • Intrusive thoughts of death or suicide.

    How does depression affect the brain?

    Various researches suggest the regions of the brain that appear to get affected the most by depression are the hippocampus which plays a central role in learning and memory, the prefrontal cortex, which regulates thoughts, emotions, and actions by “talking” to other brain regions.
    German researcher Thomas Frodl did an important study looking at the brains of people with depression and comparing them to people without depression.  When he first looked at them, depressed people had abnormalities in several brain areas in comparison to healthy (non-depressed) people, specifically in the hippocampus, cingulate, and prefrontal cortex.  Frodl then followed both the depressed and non-depressed people for three years, and showed continued decrease in those brain areas in people with depression, in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, hippocampus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and orbitofrontal cortex:  "these reductions were found in patients with major depression but not in [healthy] controls."

    How to Tackle Depression?

    There is a range of ways to deal with depression, such as behavioural strategies, antidepressant medication, and in some severe cases, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). Education and coping strategies are also important when learning to manage your depression.
    A key feature of depression is inactivity. People find that they are doing less and then feel even worse because they are doing less. Behavioural strategies for depression aim to identify and change aspects of behaviour that may worsen depression. People are encouraged to act against depression by increasing activities, even though this is the last thing that they feel like doing. Relevant behavioural strategies include activity scheduling, social skills training, structured problem solving, and goal planning. One of the advantages of this form of treatment for depression is that once acquired, these new behavioural styles can be applied throughout life, minimising relapse or recurrence of depression.

    Other types of ways require much of experts help and guidance for their implementations 

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