Anyone can suffer from depression, from young children to senior citizens. Depression is a serious, long-lasting mood disorder that is marked by profound negative changes in mood, sleep disturbances, low energy, and loss of interest in enjoyable activities - among other symptoms.
Together, these can be very difficult to overcome, especially without help.
Luckily as doctors have explored the reason for depression, they've also learned a great deal about the brain regions that interact during the condition. This has led to vast improvement in our understanding of how depression affects the brain and which treatments are most effective.
How Depression Affects the Brain: The Most Important Facts
Depression has a major influence on different structures within the brain - and its impact can be even more noticeable for young people than for adults. In severe, long-term cases of depression, some regions of the brain may shrink while others change how they function.
This, in turn, alters the severity of the condition and how a person reacts to treatment.
Among the major changes in the brain during depression are:
Size Changes in the Hippocampus
Diagnostic imaging of depressed people has shown many of them have a smaller than average hippocampus. This part of the brain is responsible for helping people manage their memories. A smaller hippocampus may explain forgetfulness and impaired memory in some depressed people.
The hippocampus tends to be highly active when someone encounters a situation that, in the past, was linked to unpleasant experiences. For example, if you were stung painfully by a bee as a child, you may respond fearfully to their buzzing and avoid them even as an adult.
Altered hippocampus activity may make it difficult to overcome the influence of such memories.
Reduction in Neuron Formation
Depression seems to inhibit production of neurons around the hippocampus.
Neurons are the building blocks of connections throughout the brain and are necessary for it to adjust its performance in almost any lasting way. All throughout life, people build up and break down the different pathways within the brain in response to their experiences and learning.
This helps explain why most depression medication takes a long time to work. Even when medication is effective, it may take weeks of treatment for new connections to form. Once they do, this changes the network of brain activity associated with a person's depression.