Can Depression permanently Damage Your Brain? Here's What You Need to Know
While no one knows for sure whether or not depression is linked to permanent brain damage, it's clear that it does have some effects. It can cause you to lose interest in activities you used to enjoy and make you more prone to memory lapses and mood swings. Research on patients who have recovered from major depressive episodes suggests that the brain can recover from even chronic stress. Let's take a closer look at what we know about the connection between depression, the brain, and permanent damage.
What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that can cause sadness, hopelessness, guilt and worthlessness. It affects how people think, feel, behave, and relate to others. The most common form of depression is known as major depressive disorder.
The symptoms of depression vary from person to person, but there are some common symptoms that many people experience. These include difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite or weight, and loss of interest in things you used to enjoy doing before your depression started. Depression can also impact your brain by impairing cognitive function, such as memory problems and decreased attention span.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines depression as "a persistent low mood characterised by a sense of hopelessness, pessimism, or helplessness that is severe enough to cause significant dysfunction in the individual's everyday life."
A person may be diagnosed with major depressive disorder if they have had at least two weeks of symptoms of depression, i.e. feelings of worthlessness or guilt, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, inability to sleep or thoughts of death or suicide.
What are the causes of depression?
Any person can be affected by depression – even someone perceived to be leading a well-settled and fulfilled life.
These factors can play a significant role in depression.
Genetics: As mentioned earlier, 40% of people inherit depression from their families. Depression can run in families.
Personality: Those with low self-esteem are easily overwhelmed by stress and even, at some point, seek validation from others to validate their existence. Such people are often drowned in pessimistic thoughts, leading to depression.
Biochemistry: Changes in certain chemical hormones in the brain may even contribute to the symptoms of depression.
Environmental and Social Factors: Being exposed to violence, physical or verbal abuse, assault, insults, poverty, neglect, and inattention may make some people more vulnerable to depression.
Medication: Some medications may trigger depression as a side effect. Often, recreational drugs and alcohol can also cause depression.
Life Events: Prolonged or long-term acute stress, death of a loved one, childhood traumas, and isolation can plant the seed of insecurity within people leading to depression.
Medical Conditions: Physical illnesses may lead to mental illness. People suffering from health conditions like cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, hypertension, diabetes, etc., can often dwell upon those points and end up in depression.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Depression is a mental condition that can be debilitating. It causes feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and guilt. People with depression might also experience physical symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain or loss, sleep problems, and headaches.
This is a very broad topic, and there are many symptoms of depression. But the most common ones are:
- feeling sad or empty for long periods;
- having trouble concentrating on anything;
- feeling like nothing matters;
- not wanting to do anything;
- sleeping too much or too little; - having trouble getting up in the morning; and/or
- having thoughts of suicide or death.
Depression can be difficult to recognise because it lacks the physical symptoms that are more recognisable, such as a broken bone or fever. However, some people with depression will feel this way constantly, while others may only feel this way a few times in their lifetime. Other common depression symptoms include feeling sad or empty for long periods, feeling like nothing matters, and not wanting to do anything.
What happens to the brain during depression?
The human brain functions on chemical reactions, and mental health conditions like depression can change your brain chemistry. Depression may cause the release of cortisol in the brain, a type of steroid that can damage the hippocampus and other areas of the central nervous system. This may lead to symptoms associated with neurocognitive disorder (dementia), such as memory loss.
Can depression permanently damage your brain?
Depression can physically change the brain. Studies have shown that depression can lead to losing gray matter volume (GMV), and this loss is caused by parts of your brain shrinking due to the release of the hormone cortisol which impedes the growth of your brain cells.
The more serious depression a person suffers, the more GMV they lose, and since GMV contains most of your neurons or nerve cells, slowed growth means that your cognitive capabilities are at risk of impairment.
To sum up, during depression, your brain –
- Physical changes (loss of gray matter volume)
- Shrinks in several regions (excessive production and release of cortisol)
- Inflames (your cerebral inflames and may lead to killing neurons)
- Restricting oxygen intake (change in your breathing patterns which leads to low oxygen restriction or hypoxia)
Can depression lead to Alzheimer's or memory loss?
Depression is a mental illness that can lead to memory loss and confusion.
Alzheimer's is a form of dementia that affects the brain, primarily in older adults. It is characterized by memory loss, confusion, and impaired judgment.
The connection between depression and Alzheimer's has not been fully understood yet. However, there are some theories about how the two conditions could be related. One theory is that depression and Alzheimer's share a common cause: brain cell death. Another theory is that the deposition of amyloid proteins in the brain leads to inflammation and, eventually, tissue damage, which can cause Alzheimer's. Researchers are also investigating genetic factors that may contribute to both conditions. Genes associated with depression have been linked with Alzheimer's risk, such as genes in the serotonin receptor 5-HT1B gene cluster and the dopamine transporter gene region.
Depression has long been linked with Alzheimer's; depression is often the first sign of this memory-impairing disease. It can be tough to identify depression in someone with Alzheimer's, as dementia can cause many of the same symptoms. Examples of common symptoms of both depression and dementia include:
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired thinking
Depression in Alzheimer's doesn't always reveal itself the way it does in those without Alzheimer's. Here are a few ways to detect depression in a person with Alzheimer's:
- Often is less severe than normal depression
- May not last as long, with symptoms coming and going
- Less likely to talk about or attempt suicide
How to overcome depression?
Depression can be cured in several ways.
Medication –Mental health experts suggest certain medicines that treat depression, such as –
Antidepressants - relieve symptoms of depression
SSRIs – a class of drugs that ease depressed mood and anxiety
Anxiolytic – is used to relieve stress and tension and may promote sleep
Psychotherapy or talk therapy is also effective with other treatments like medications in the early and late stages. Psychotherapy can give you a new perspective on dealing with your problems. It helps ease stress and gradually makes you aware of your symptoms and treatments.
Light therapy –
Light therapy is known to ease depression. Exposure to natural sunlight or white light can reduce the symptoms of depression. It, in turn, helps to regulate your mood. Light therapy helps treat the seasonal affective disorder.
Alternative Therapies –
Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, meditation, or herbal supplements help with depression. However, taking the wrong supplements can bring more adverse effects on depression. Hence, you must be very careful before taking them.
Lifestyle changes –
Adding new changes to your lifestyle, such as exercising and sleeping enough, can help with the symptoms. Following a proper schedule, a morning routine and eating correctly are beneficial. And also, be mindful of going easy on yourself and taking breaks.
Social support –
Socialising plays a significant role in the treatment of depression. Social engagements help in uplifting your mood and make you feel better.
A note from us -
Depression is a common condition that affects millions of people every year. Anyone can experience depression — even if there doesn't seem to be a reason. The good news is that depression is curable. If you have symptoms of depression, and even after several tries, it doesn't go away, get medical help - because the sooner, the better