Ever wondered what happens in the brain of a depressed person? Is it all due to chemical imbalances or is it a lot more complicated than that? Did you know that there are billions of chemical reactions that are responsible for mood? Yes, that’s a lot to count for, but the brain is a complex organ, therefore there are different areas of the brain that become affected as well. Depression can also be inherited. Genes can determine how vulnerable you are to depression, though it’s important to note that even if you have the gene it doesn’t mean you will automatically have depression.
Society believes depression is mainly caused by chemical imbalances. This is due to advertisements from pharmaceutical companies trying to sell their drug treatments. This idea boils down to the notion that chemicals in the brain, also known as neurotransmitters are defective. Affecting nerve impulses between neurons, leading to depression. Chemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine play an essential role in regulating our mood and unlike what is said. Serotonin appears to be low in only about 20% of those with depression. In other words, the chemicals in our brain are only one piece of the whole puzzle.
Dopamine: This neurotransmitter allows us to feel pleasure. When it’s low, people fail to feel satisfaction in activities they used to enjoy.
Norepinephrine: It helps us respond to stressful situations. Meaning that those with depression who have a decreased level of this chemical don’t handle stress adequately.
Serotonin: This chemical regulates mood, sexual behavior, aggression, and sleep. Some people with depression have low levels of this. It can also contribute to suicidal behavior.
Prefrontal Cortex: This region regulates emotions and decision making. Basically, it controls our outlook in life and how we react to it. The left section of the prefrontal cortex manages positive emotions, while the right side perceives negativity. In depressive people, the right side overpowers the positive section.
Hippocampus: The hippocampus stores memory and regulates the stress hormone called, cortisol. During stressful and depressive moments, the body releases cortisol, worsening mood. During long periods of depression, the brain becomes overflooded, leading to memory problems. This is why people with depression experience “brain fog”.
Amygdala: This brain region is responsible for regulating emotions like; anger, fear, and satisfaction. During depression, the amygdala increases in size. Not only that, but it’s also responsible for perceiving threats. The amygdala’s evolutionary purpose is to help us survive life and death situations. But in those with depression it starts acting out, flooding people with threats that will eventually lead to feelings of hopelessness. The amygdala forms connection with other brain regions, such as the thalamus and hypothalamus. These two areas control instinctive behaviors. Since the amygdala takes over, it starts controlling the person’s behavior.
Orbitofrontal Cortex: This region allows people to adapt to unexpected situations, but when depressed this area’s volume decreases and stops functioning adequately.
Genetics, neurotransmitters, and specific brain regions all contribute to depression. But this illness is complex because other factors such as the environment, medical conditions, and stress also play a role in depression. Even though there are similar key points, depression can be seen differently from person to person. It is of upmost importance to understand these differences. This way treatments can me modified to fit everyone’s need.
Wonder what it’s like to feel depression? Check out this short story: F*ck Depression – A True Story