Nonfiction

Your Brain and Depression

5 August 2015

Depression not only affects your mood, but lowers your cognitive ability, possibly even after you’ve recovered.

Depression has been a huge topic of conversation societally in recent years, which is fantastic in helping to break down the stigma of mental illness, however, it is still a widely misunderstood dis-order. Depression, described beautifully by Mike Martin, author and YouTube personality, is not the opposite of happiness. It is the opposite of vitality. It is a numbness that hurts and makes doing anything hard.

Causes of depression remain elusive to the scientific community, however some possibilities have been identified, possibly the most well known being an imbalance in brain chemistry. While this could be a contributor to depression, like anything to do with the brain, things are not always so simple. Traumas in our environment seem to contribute, and interestingly, there seems to be a strong indication that depression has a genetic basis, with depression often running in families.

Symptoms of depression can include fatigue, loss of interest in life, negative or distorted thinking and low mood. However, these are not the only difficulties depression sufferers face. Researchers have found that they also have to contend with severe cognitive deficits. These can include low-ered reaction times, difficulty concentrating, being easily distractible and visual learning and memory faults.

These are the mental capabilities people need to complete any task, ranging from going grocery shopping to finishing that project that’s due tomorrow. For many people who suffer from depression, it’s difficult to get up, let alone organise their day.

That’s not all, though. Recent findings suggest that patients do not properly recover from these cognitive deficits even after they enter into remission. In fact, findings suggest that the more severe the episode of depression, the more severe the cognitive deficits that remain. A study conducted by Douglas Bremner and colleagues had even found that patients in remission had a 19% smaller volume of the left hippocampus, a brain area involved in learning and memory, when compared to healthy controls. In other words, depression could literally be atrophying people’s brains, with each successive episode increasing the damage, and yet the stigma surrounding mental illness prevents people from seeking out treatment.

These findings make it imperative that people understand that depression is not just long term sadness, it is an illness that needs to be caught early. So please look out for yourself, and do not be afraid to seek out help. And importantly, look out for your loved ones who might be falling into those dark places and encourage them to seek treatment.

For information and resources, please visit http://www.beyondblue.org.au/


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