Let’s talk a little about depression and our brain. Our brain is the most important organ in our bodies. It allows us to move, think, feel and is the very essence of who we are as individuals. Our brain development starts just days after conception and by the time we are six, the part of the brain where we see attachment, emotional well being and sense of self (our frontal lobes), is beginning to take shape. A healthy brain will continue to make new connections and produce new brain cells, or neurons, well into adulthood. But what happens to our brains when we are depressed?
Depression is a serious health condition where low mood is severe and long lasting. It is often thought to be a chemical imbalance in the brain, but it is much more complicated than that. There are many possible factors that combine and cause depression such as faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems all come into play. Research has also found that nerve cell connections and growth as well as how nerve circuits are functioning all have a direct impact on depression.
Advancements in brain imaging has led to a better understanding of which brain regions regulate mood and how they may be affected by depression. When comparing a normal/healthy brain to a brain suffering from depression, scientists have found some subtle but important differences. Grey matter abnormalities, brain shrinkage in the hippocampus, and a more active amygdala have all been detected in patients suffering from depression.
Thicker Grey Matter
Grey matter is the outer layer of the brain and refers to the brain tissue that holds most of our neuronal cell bodies. Depressed brains have thicker grey matter in parts of the brain involved in self-perception and emotions.
The hippocampus is part of the limbic system and has a central role in processing long-term memory, recollection and stores memories. It is also the part of the brain that regulates the production of a hormone called cortisol. The body releases cortisol during times of physical and mental stress and during bouts of depression. Unfortunately, ongoing exposure to this stress hormone can slow the production of new neurons and even cause the nerve cells in this part of the brain to shrink leading to low moods.
The increase of cortisol in our system also has an impact on the amygdala. This is a part of the brain associated with emotional responses like anger, pleasure, sorrow, fear, and sexual arousal. When it becomes larger and more active, it can cause sleep disturbances, changes in activity levels and also cause the body to release irregular amounts of hormones and other chemicals in the body, leading to further complications.
There also seems to be a link between brain inflammation and depression. It isn’t yet clear whether inflammation is a cause for depression or if depression causes the inflammation. Either way the swelling worsens depression by interfering with neurotransmitters that regulate mood and negatively impact learning and memory.
Depression is a convoluted, dynamic disorder that involves several contributing genetic, environmental, biochemical, and physical factors but it is treatable. Psychological counseling with a professional you trust can make a difference. This type of counseling, known as talk therapy, is believed to alter brain structure by strengthening the prefrontal cortex which can help relieve the symptoms of depression.
Your physician or therapist may also prescribe medications to help fight the negative effects of depression by stabilizing the amount of cortisol and other chemicals in the brain. Sometimes electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which involves passing electrical currents through the brain to boost communication between brain cells, is used to help ease symptoms of treatment resistant depression.
Here at Life Change Associates, we use state of the art technology to boost brain health and help patients recover from depression when standard treatments such as medications and talk therapy haven’t helped. Repetitive TMS therapy is a safe, effective, drug-free, and noninvasive form of brain stimulation that has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy works by stimulating the cells in your prefrontal cortex with electromagnetic pulses delivered by an electromagnetic coil. When prefrontal cortex cells are treated in this way, their activity levels return to normal. The cells become more effective at regulating your mood and this reduces or eliminates your symptoms of depression.
You and your doctor will decide which options you should try. The treatment plan will depend on your needs, family history, allergies, and lifestyle. The impact that depression has on your body, brain and life is significant, but we are here to help. If you think you may have depression, get a diagnosis as soon as possible. The sooner you get good treatment, the better the outcome will be. You will be able to improve your mood, reduce depressive episodes and restore good brain and emotional health.
We Can Help
Life Change associates offers comprehensive treatment for those suffering with mental health disorders. Contact us to learn more and get you on your way to feeling better. To sign up for your FREE, no obligation TMS consultation click here.
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