Depression and the brain
Depression is an illness unlike many others. You can’t tell where it hurts exactly, and it is hard to describe how you feel. So many times you hear people saying: “But, you don’t look like you have depression at all..”
This often makes it very hard for people to figure out what is going on with them and take the most important step in this journey - getting help. However, compared to how things were in the past, technology and science developed to a point where we’ve discovered a lot of things about depression that we wouldn’t otherwise. For the first time we get to see things that we didn’t know much about or we couldn’t prove.
Depression isn’t just a feeling that comes out of nowhere and puts you through hell. In fact, there are changes in our brains that are related to depression. So, what happens in the brain?
This is a scan that is comparing two brains. On the left, you’re looking at the brain of a person that is experiencing symptoms on depression, and on the right is a brain of a person that isn’t experiencing symptoms of depression. You can notice an obvious difference already, right? Look at the difference in those colors.
The one on the right has so much bright yellow, and the one on the left barely has any. What do these colors mean? The bright yellow color is the activity of your brain - when your brain cells (neurons) are active, then they “light up”. The higher activity of the brain - the more of the bright, yellow color appears on the scan. The left scan, however, compared to the right one is a completely different story. As you can see, the activity there is very, very low.
The reason why this is happening is because depression is related to chemical imbalance in the brain, messing with some of our most important hormones like dopamine and serotonine (our happiness hormones) that are responsible for boosting our mood, giving us a pleasant feelings, motivation and the ability to be more active (for our brain to be more active).
When this chemical imbalance happens, we start to experience lack of energy, lack of motivation and will to do things - sometimes even insomnia or oversleeping, and that is how the cycle that feeds on itself starts.
The less you do - the less you achieve, the less you achieve - the more frustrated, overwhelmed and depressed you get.
The fact that we are able to see these changes in the brain can improve the way we treat depression
Being able to see such important changes in our brains while experiencing depression can help with diagnosing depression, as well as with the treatment in general. It is easier to follow up the progress, see what are the things that work, and what are the things that don’t work. This makes depression more visible, and we can finally point out at some neurological changes that come with it. It is no longer just an invisible and unwanted guest.
Seeing these changes also affects the way we see in depression
It is not a secret that there is a lot of stigma attached to depression. This goes as far as determining a person’s decision of whether they should talk about it and get help, which is very serious. Sometimes because of this, it takes people up to ten years to finally reach out, talk about it and finally get help. And yes, it’s pretty horrible that as society we do that and don’t take depression seriously.
“You should get over it!” “You should go out more!” “Just try and do things that make you happy!” “Stop being so sad and miserable all the time” “People with depression are crazy.”
All of these things are so easy to say when the symptoms of depression come from a place that we can not just expose to the world to see.
Seeing the changes in the brain shows us that no, depression isn’t an imaginary thing or just us feeling “sad” for no reason, and going out more will totally solve the problem.
Depression is a serious matter related to serious chemical imbalance that needs to be treated.
There is a way out of it, don’t let anyone (especially yourself) tell you otherwise
While many times depression seems like a dark hole you’ll never be able to get out of - you’re not the only one and the world is far away from crumbling, falling apart and ending. There are things you can do and the first step is to just tell someone about it.
Science is working every day to discover ways to improve depression treatment and to help people like you or your loved ones who are struggling with the invisible black dog. The changes that depression causes in the brain are just another perspective to look from when you think about depression.
Remember not to tell people to “just get over it”, because it is far from simple when your brain becomes your own enemy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, medication or both combined along with support groups and other programs and activities are effective ways of treatment that help people improve their lives and fight the symptoms of depression.
There are many effective ways to help you light up your brain neurons again, so hang in there and don’t be afraid to speak up, reach out and get help. It’s never too early, but it’s also never too late.