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Mental Health Awareness Month Week 2: Depression Can Physically Affect Your Brain

We know that depression can affect people psychologically, but new research is also showing that it has the potential to affect actual physical structures in the brain. It can range from inflammation and oxygen restriction to an actual shrinking of the brain. Depression impacts the central control center of your nervous system.

Research has shown that the following parts of the brain can shrink due to being in a depressive state:

· Hippocampus- plays an important role in the merging of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and in spatial memory that enables navigation

· Thalamus- functions as a relay of sensory signals, including motor signals to the cerebral cortex, and the regulation of consciousness, sleep, and alertness.

· Amygdala- play a key role in the processing of emotions, the amygdala forms part of the limbic system.

· Frontal- one of four paired lobes in the brain's cerebral cortex, and it plays vital roles in memory, attention, motivation, and numerous other daily tasks. The frontal lobe works alongside other brain regions to control how the brain functions overall. Memory formation, for example, depends on sensory input, which depends on numerous areas of the brain.

· Prefrontal cortices- a part of the brain located at the front of the frontal lobe. It is used in a variety of complex behaviors, including planning, and greatly contributes to personality development.

How much these areas shrink is linked to how severe the depressive episode lasts. When a section of the brain shrinks the functions linked to that section also shrink. For example, the amygdala and prefrontal cortex work together and control your emotional responses as well as recognizing emotional cues in other people. When this area shrinks, you will feel less empathy if you are in a depressive state.

The brain can also become inflamed when you are depressed. One study showed that people who were depressed for more than 10 years showed 30 percent more inflammation in the brain than those depressed for a shorter amount of time. Significant brain inflammation has been more relevant in persistent depressive disorder and since the inflammation causes the brain cells to die it can lead to some complications:

· Decrease function of neurotransmitters

· Brain shrinkage

· Lower ability of the brain to change as someone ages (neuroplasticity)

These can then lead to dysfunctions in the brain development, learning, memory and even mood.

Depression has also been linked to a reduction of oxygen in the body. Since depression can cause a person to do short shallow breathing it only makes sense that they will not receive enough oxygen to their body.

Basically, when the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen (hypoxia) a cellular factor is elevated in specific immunity cells found in those with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. The brain is highly sensitive to oxygen and when it is reduced it can lead to inflammation, brain cell injury and brain cell death.

Inflammation and cell death is the open door to may other symptoms linked to learning, memory, retention, mood and development. Even short-term depression and hypoxia can lead to confusion and frustration. When you can increase your oxygen you will be able to relieve some of the symptoms of depression. Using a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, weekly yoga or Pilates classes and mindfulness or meditation classes will help you increase your oxygen intake.

Depression can also affect the structural and connective tissues of the brain including:

· Reduced function in the hippocampus affecting memory.

· Reduced function in the prefrontal cortex affecting the executive functioning- getting things done and attention to details.

· Reduced function of the amygdala affecting your mood and emotions.

If you have noticed the above happening in your life or in a loved one’s, reach out for help. Ask your doctor, seek a therapist and talk to your friends and family. You are not the only one on the planet with these symptoms and you do not have to work through your depression by yourself. It takes a village to help you, find your tribe and seek their love, compassion and support.

You can also reach out to me at any time with any questions or if you would like some guidance on what you should if you feel a certain way.

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