Many people associate depression with feelings of sadness, tiredness and lack of motivation or energy. What many don't understand is that depression isn't just a feeling. It's a psychological condition that affects the way you think, feel and even behave.
Although it's categorized as a mood disorder, major depressive disorder (MDD) could be rooted in chemical changes occurring in the brain.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a condition that causes feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Although some people have mild cases that occur only occasionally throughout their life, others struggle with bouts of depression their entire life. This intense, long-lasting form is called major depressive disorder (MDD). Symptoms of depression can impact every aspect of a person's life, from their performance at work or school to physical functions like eating or sleeping.
Those diagnosed with MDD typically exhibit five of the more common symptoms every day for at least two weeks. These common symptoms include:
- Feelings of hopelessness or sadness
- Lack of interest in activities and things they once enjoyed
- Decrease or increase in appetite
- Lack of sleep or sleeping too much
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Although the cause of depression is not known precisely, researchers believe that it may be a combination of factors including genetics and stress plus hormonal imbalances and biochemical reactions in the brain.
How Depression Affects the Brain
Three parts of the brain show distinct characteristics in those with depression which may play a role in the development of MDD:
The hippocampus found near the center of the brain, stores memories and is responsible for the production of a hormone called cortisol. When the body experiences physical or mental stress, cortisol is released. Times of extreme stress or even a chemical imbalance can cause the release of excessive amounts of cortisol. This shrinks neurons in the hippocampus and slows the production of new ones, which could be the reason why many people with depression struggle with memory and concentration.
2. Prefrontal Cortex
Located in the very front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex regulates emotions and is also responsible for decision making and memory formation. The excessive amounts of cortisol produced by the hippocampus can also cause this part of the brain to shrink.
When you experience emotions such as pleasure or fear, these responses are facilitated by the amygdala. Due to the constant exposure to high levels of cortisol, those with MDD have an enlarged and hyperactive amygdala. Not only does this disturb sleep and activity patterns, but it can also cause the body to release irregular amounts of other hormones and chemicals leading to further issues.
Seeking Help for Depression
If you're struggling with depression, don't feel like you have to do it alone. There is help available from those who understand how depression affects you. Brookhaven Retreat is a facility just for women that serves those struggling with depression and other mental health disorders. To learn more, contact our caring and compassionate team today.