People always seem to have this wonderful way of pushing depression off as nothing more than a case of the moody blues, but according to new research, those people are wrong. As it turns out depression might be a form of brain damage!
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the leading cause of disability among Americans. Characterized by feelings of discouragement, hopelessness, sadness, lack of motivation or disinterest in life for more than two weeks, MDD can have a significant impact on your daily activities.
Due to circumstances, such as getting fired, losing a loved one or going through a divorce, many of us will feel anxious or depressed at various stages of our lives. These feelings, however, due pass allowing you to continue to function normally. Those who struggle with MDD are not just feeling these feelings for a short while in response to a stressful situation, but rather battling these emotions on an ongoing basis.
According to the ADAA, a diagnosis of MDD can be reached if you experience at least 5 of these symptoms for a period of two-weeks or more:
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure I hobbies and activities, including sex
- Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Low appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and pain for which no other cause can be diagnosed
MDD and the Brain
The ENIGMA MDD Working Group completed a study including nearly 9000 people, 7,199 of which were healthy and 1,728 who had been diagnosed with MDD. Their research team compared MRI brain scans o all of the participants, and were able to establish that MDD causes patterns of physiological damage to the brain.
These changes were found in the size of the hippocampus. Those who suffered with MDD were found to have a smaller hippocampus than the healthy participants, showing shrinkage in the hippocampal volume by up to 1.24%
What does this mean?
To understand how this change will affect the way in which the brain operates, it is important to first understand what the hippocampus is.
Located in the center of the lower middle part of the brain, the hippocampus is in charge of functions to do with memory, as well as other behaviors that are associated with it. This includes the processing of long-term memories, creation of new memories, emotional responses and spatial navigation.
Professor Ian Hickie, the co-author of the study, discussed this concept further. He explained that memory is not simply remember fact like your home phone number, or your credit card pin. “It’s the whole concept we hold of ourselves.”
The great news in this discovery, is that this damage is reversible! In understanding the changes that occur, proper treatment can return the brain function to normal.
If you believe that you, or someone you love, is suffering from MDD, please seek help from a healthcare professional as soon as possible!