What happens in the brain during depression?

What happens in the brain during depression?

Depression is a mood disorder, a mental illness. It affects your mind, behaviour, temperament badly. It causes feelings of sadness, hopelessness, despair, unwillingness to live. It may last from a few days to a few months or a few years.

There are examples of mild depression where a person experience it once or twice in a lifetime, while others may have several severe episodes of depression over their lifetime.

Some have a tendency of staying depressed. Genetics, environment, upbringing, past experience, hormones are responsible for it. Severe depression is referred to as clinical depression or major depression.

Depression interferes with daily activities of life. It makes a person lethargic, unenergetic, slow, lacking in vigour etc. This disorder also interferes with mood and behaviour as well as various physical activities such as sleep and appetite.

Here are a few symptoms of depression.

  • persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • lack of interest in doing anything
  • decrease or increase in appetite
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • too much sleep or sleeplessness
  • restlessness and anxiety
  • fatigue –
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • difficulty in making decisions,
  • inability to concentrate and having healthy thoughts.
  • thoughts of death or suicide
  • a suicide attempt

Let’s see how Depression affects the Brain?

Hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex these are the three parts of a human brain.

The location of the hippocampus is near the centre of the brain. Its function is to store memories and it regulates the production of a hormone called cortisol.

The body releases cortisol during physical and mental stress.  Problems can occur when excessive amounts of cortisol are secreted and sent to the brain on account of some stressful condition or a chemical imbalance.

If we talk of a healthy brain, you will find that brain cells known to be as neurons are produced throughout life in a part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus.

In people with depression, increased cortisol levels can slow the production of new neurons and thus it causes the neurons in the hippocampus to shrink. This affects the normal functioning of the brain.

The very front of the brain occupies the prefrontal cortex. Regulating emotions, making decisions, and forming memories are its function. Increased amount of cortisol makes the prefrontal cortex to shrink also. Thus here we can see the imbalance in emotions and decision-making capabilities.

The amygdala is the third part of the brain that facilitates emotional responses, such as pleasure and fear. The constant exposure to high levels of cortisol makes the amygdala enlarged and more active.

As a result of the enlarged and hyperactive amygdala, along with other abnormal activity resulting imbalance in different parts of the brain that may result in disturbances in sleep, activity patterns and abnormal behaviour.

Surprisingly it also causes the body to release irregular amounts of hormones and other chemicals in the body.  It brings a lot of complications for the body.

In a normal person, cortisol levels are highest in the morning and decrease at night. High cortisol levels play the biggest role in the chemical activities of the brain. It is noticed that cortisol levels are always elevated or high in people suffering from depression even at night.

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