Can Depression Have Long-Term Effects on the Brain?

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Anyone who has been diagnosed with depression knows it can affect all aspects of your life. It can make you feel too tired and unhappy to go to your job, to play with your kids, or even to enjoy your favorite activities.

Why People Develop Depression

Depressed people feel an unrelenting sense of sadness often accompanied by lethargy. This state of mind is sometimes the result of a specific, negative occurrence. For example, someone who is laid off and suffering financial troubles may fall into a depression. Negative life events like divorce or the death of a loved one can also lead to depression.

There are some people who may be genetically predisposed to depression. The hereditary factor can be seen in the higher incidence of depression in closely related family members.

Researchers have proposed various theories on why certain people get depression. One popular idea most people are familiar with is that depression is caused by a problem in the brain. Part of this theory states that a lack of serotonin can trigger depression. There are medications available which are supposed to correct the imbalance after several weeks and ease the depression.

Other depressed people — especially those who develop the illness after severe stress — seek natural treatment or therapy. These modes of treatment can be very effective for some, while others (especially genetically predisposed people) fare better with a combination of medication and therapy.

The worst thing someone with depression can do is to remain in the depressed state without getting any sort of help. Some depressed people develop thoughts of suicide. In addition to this, new research says that depression can have an effect on an important structure in the brain: the hippocampus.

Effects of Depression on the Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is a structure in the brain linked to memory. A newly published study by Sawyer et al. (2012) shows that over time, depressed people may experience a decrease in the volume of their hippocampus. The implications? Older adults who have struggled with depression may suffer continual, declining mental ability (including memory) at a faster rate than their healthy peers. The evidence for this theory has not yet been confirmed, but it is still being studied.

What You Can Do

We cannot assume that all people with depression will see a decline in mental functioning. Until we know for sure how depression affects the brain long-term, the best option is to seek help. As mentioned, there are medications, holistic supplements, and many therapy options available.

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